DUBAI // Dubai's position as the opening host city in the International's Paralympics Committee's (IPC) inaugural Athletics Grand Prix is crucial to the future of the sport in the UAE, said organisers of the 5th Fazaa International Athletics Competition.
The event, taking place this week at the Dubai Police Officers Club, has become one of the region's most renowned competitions since its inception in 2009, but in January it received a resounding endorsement from the IPC when it was chosen to kick-off the governing body's new, six-leg global circuit.
Such recognition can already be quantified in the interest generated among the para-athletic community, with more than 450 entrants representing 35 countries registered for the four-day event, which began yesterday evening.
Among those competing are a number of medallists from the 2012 Paralympic Games, including Wa Wai So, the champion sprinter from Hong Kong, and Walid Ktila, the Tunisian who in London took home golds in the 100 metres and 200m T34.
However, the new status afforded to Fazaa should increase the quality of para-athletics here, with the event expanding not only in terms of athletes competing but also in the amount of disability categories and the number of classifications included. For example, this year Fazaa features blind athletes for the first time.
"In five years Fazaa has reached a very high level of competition, in terms of performance of athletes and welcoming here Paralympic medallists and world record holders," said Majid Al Usiami, the tournament director. "But what is special about this event is the IPC searched the world for the best athletics championships and found Fazaa to be one of them.
"Because this is now a grand prix event, our athletes are competing against the strongest athletes in track and field, where everyone is focused on qualifying for the IPC World Championships."
The World Championships, taking place this summer in Lyon, France, serves as a huge incentive this week, said Thani Juma Belregad, the chairman of the Local Organising Committee.
"This is a very important event for our athletes as we have the biggest delegation of home athletes competing in the UAE - 85 - and it's at the beginning of their preparations for the World Championships," he said.
"They can find out where they are now and also what level their opponents are at.
"With the World Championships in July, our athletes have to be ready right from the beginning.
"And because we think in four to eight-year cycles, we're making sure our juniors participating this week get experience that will serve them well for the next Paralympics in Rio 2016, too.
"But we have to keep on improving and ensure that Dubai must remain one of the grand prix cities for ever. So we have to do better than what we have done, to think differently than before. We've done that this year."
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