Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019
The countdown till the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi was officially on once the Olympic Torch at Wahat Al Karama (Martyr’s Memorial) was lit. One hundred Arabian lanterns to mark each of the 100 remaining days until the games were set alight too. The event, taking place from 14 -21 March, will be this year’s largest international sports and humanitarian event. Over 7,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches, representing over 190 nations, will participate in what is the first ever Special Olympics World Games to be held in the Middle East and North Africa.
With 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports in world-class venues throughout Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the event will also be the most unified Games in the 50-year history of the Special Olympics movement, with inclusion of people of determination with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of the event.
Talking on CNN’s "Connect the World with Becky Anderson," H.R.H. Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud, Vice-President for Development and Planning, Saudi Arabian General Sports Authority, said it’s a learning experience for both sexes, with young Saudi females participating for the first time. "We are taking seriously the role of the Special Olympics, not only from a sports point of view but really from the community integration and seeing how we can tie the family back into the dialogue - which is natural discourse for us in the Middle East - inclusion is our narrative," she said. The royal added that dialogue has shifted from including women to involving everyone and this is a community that deserves acknowledgment.
"The beauty of these games is that it is not just about competing, it’s about being included. What we’re trying to do is elevate the discourse from the individual to the collective… Someone must unlock the door, that’s the vision of the King, that’s the vision of the Crown Prince," she said.
A Star-Studded Event
The Inaugural Special Olympics World Games Partner Summit 2019
Special Olympics global ambassadors American singer and songwriter Nicole Scherzinger, who has an aunt with Down syndrome, and Bob Beamon, who still holds the Olympic world record for Long Jump, are among the stars set to make an appearance. Other sports celebrities on the roster include new ambassador Alain Bernard, the former French swimmer and triple Olympic medallist, and global ambassador Hannah Teter, who has won multiple medals during her snowboarding career.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is also heading to the Games to help raise awareness of the Special Olympics movement. Muhammad, known for being the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics, won a bronze medal in sabre fencing at the 2016 Games.
Other sports stars and widely acclaimed personalities touching down in the UAE to attend the Games include football legends Romario, Cafu and Didier Drogba. Ex-NBA star Dikembe Mutombo and former figure skater Michelle Kwan will also be present.