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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Our aim is to change perceptions, break down barriers and promote inclusion

With the Special Olympics IX Mena Games now finished, Mohammed Al Junaibi looks back at a successful event and looks forward to next year's World Games

Members of the UAE team dance at the closing ceremony of the Special Olympics IX Mena Games. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Members of the UAE team dance at the closing ceremony of the Special Olympics IX Mena Games. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Over the past week Abu Dhabi has experienced a milestone moment in its history.

Through the thousands of volunteers, athletes and spectators, and the hundreds of poignant, joyous and memorable moments, the UAE has experienced one of the most incredible singular movements.

We opened our arms to people of determination from across the region and the world, and in return they gave us more than we could have hoped for.

During the Special Olympics IX Mena Games, local medical professionals carried out almost 3,000 health screenings as part of the healthy athletes programme, which is one of the most crucial elements of the Special Olympics. Doctors carrying out screenings this week were able to detect a previously unknown issue with an athlete’s sight. The girl, who was suffering from a build-up of pressure behind her eyes, was at risk of losing her vision if the problem was not treated. The athlete was sent to hospital in Abu Dhabi for care. If her condition was left untreated, she could have gone blind within two years. Next year, we hope to screen more than 7,000 athletes.

Hosting the World Games is an incredible opportunity for both the UAE as a nation and for the Middle East and North Africa region. The decision to award the hosting rights to Abu Dhabi is a direct reflection of our leadership’s commitment to inclusion and the empowerment of people of determination.

Our bid journey began almost two years ago, but the UAE’s journey to include people of all abilities was shaped by Sheikh Zayed, our Founding Father. He believed that the development of our nation could not be complete or successful without the inclusion of people from all walks of life and that it is our diversity that has made us a strong country. For more than 20 years, we have put social inclusion at the forefront of our national priorities, and we continue to develop policies aimed at improving the quality of life of people of determination.

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The World Games in 2019 present an opportunity for us to showcase to the world our values of openness and hospitality. It will serve as a platform to inspire and instigate even more positive change for people of determination. We have a duty and responsibility as the first nation in the region to host the World Games to leave a legacy for people of determination.

Hosting the games will enable us to foster greater community and regional engagement and generate the public attention we need to invest in the cause, expand our reach and to create wider understanding and awareness of people of determination. The games will also serve as a platform for knowledge-sharing, from best-practice policies and programmes to excellence in global event management and execution.

Ultimately, our aim is to change perceptions, break down barriers and promote inclusion. We want to empower people of determination and showcase their achievements. The games are more than just sport and competition – they are a catalyst for raising awareness across the region.

The games are also an opportunity to recognise Abu Dhabi as a world-leading destination, capable of holding major global sporting events. The emirate’s world-class facilities, which hold large public and professional occasions, are unparalleled in the region.

As part of our bid, we committed to leveraging certain values, such as inclusive language, to spread the message of integration across the region. As part of our commitment, the Local Organising Committee of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 has its own team that is responsible for our "legacy programme". The programme will ensure that we create long-term change across the region.

This growing movement couldn’t have happened without the leadership and vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Sheikh Mohammed has been heavily involved on both an official and personal level. He has personally overseen the daily progress and shared his feedback and vision on what the games should achieve. His leadership has been the bedrock of our legacy programme and we are incredibly grateful for his support and direction.

Having strong government support from the host nation for a world games is critical to not only the success of the games but also the legacy, which is why we engaged a network of federal and local government entities when we developed our bid.

As part of the programme, we are working on a project which aims to better understand the journey of a person with intellectual disabilities from birth to diagnosis to adulthood. The objectives of the research include identifying gaps and opportunities in policies that would enable people with intellectual disabilities to become productive members of society.

We hope to instigate change in countries across the Middle East by demonstrating the value of social inclusion and providing a winning model led by the UAE.

There is no better or more profound location than Abu Dhabi to invite the world to come together in celebration of sport, in celebration of people of all kinds and to demonstrate to the world that the lines of division can be erased.

Mohammed Al Junaibi is Chairman of the Higher Committee of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019