ABU DHABI // The countdown to the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 officially began in the early hours of Saturday morning as the Winter Games came to a close in Austria.
The capital won the bid to host the 2019 Games last year after the board of directors unanimously voted in Abu Dhabi’s favour.
The event will be the region’s first sporting event for athletes with special needs and disabilities.
The closing ceremony of the Special Olympics Winter Games saw Emirati performers taking to the stage for a cultural show that included Special Olympics UAE athletes who competed days before.
A special performance by Emirati singer Hamad Al Ameri saw him using a traditional Bedouin desert setting to tell the story of how Abu Dhabi will use the games to promote values such as respect and inclusion for all.
The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, also marked the handover by projecting the new Games logo on its side with the hashtag #AbuDhabi2019.
The closing ceremony was watched by crowds at a packed UPS Stadium in the Austrian city of Graz and was telecasted to millions across the globe.
Celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hussein Fahmy and NBA hall of famer Dikembe Mutombo also attended a reception hosted by The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 Local Organising Committee. Three hundred people including delegation representatives from more than 100 countries competing at the World Games were also present.
With the handover now complete, it signals 24 months until about 7,000 athletes from 170 nations descend on Abu Dhabi for more than two weeks of competition.
Male and female athletes with intellectual disabilities from numerous cultures and backgrounds will compete alongside each other in a worldwide competition that showcases their sporting abilities in gymnastics, basketball, cycling, figure skating, football, golf and more.
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will feature 22 sports, including football, swimming, cycling, athletics, equestrian and powerlifting.
Following the handover ceremony, Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “On behalf of the UAE, I am delighted to receive the flag that officially marks the countdown to the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
“It is a great honour to be the first nation in the Middle East to be awarded this event. We are committed to the principles of sporting excellence for all members of our community and we look forward to welcoming the thousands of athletes from around the world to the United Arab Emirates.”
The Abu Dhabi Games logo was also revealed during the closing ceremony.
Inspired by the Emirati tradition of palm frond weaving (Khoos), it is a metaphor for the unifying power of the Games, and demonstrates how Abu Dhabi will create a spirit of inclusion and unity among all.
The Abu Dhabi segment of the closing ceremony will be broadcast throughout the Mother of the Nation Festival at Abu Dhabi Corniche from Sunday until April 4, at 6.15pm daily.