Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

The glory of the Special Olympics World Games has already begun

As the nation prepares for the sporting spectacle, the first UAE medals have been won

UAE athletes Micah and Jonah Hambleton won gold and silver in the triathlon. Victor Besa/The National 
UAE athletes Micah and Jonah Hambleton won gold and silver in the triathlon. Victor Besa/The National 

Long before the Flame of Hope torch was lit in Athens and flown to the UAE, excitement had begun to build. Hundreds turned out in Fujairah last Monday as the torch began its tour across all seven emirates ahead of the Special Olympics World Games. The Games form one of the globe’s biggest sporting events, bringing together more than 7,500 athletes from 190 countries in an awe-inspiring demonstration of sporting prowess and human achievement. The entire nation is behind the UAE’s athletes, from Hamda Al Hosani, the star Emirati sprinter who won gold in the 100 metres at the Mena games last March, to Clara Lehmkuhl, the UAE’s only female tennis player. Overall, some 21,000 volunteers have come forward in the knowledge that this is an opportunity to reaffirm the UAE’s core values of inclusivity – and to see them at work.

The athletes competing in the Middle East’s first Special Olympics World Games are not just breaking records, but boundaries. All live with intellectual disabilities and for many, including Ms Al Hosani, the determination to win races is matched by the desire to challenge the many misconceptions surrounding people with special needs. “As the flame embarks on its tour of the UAE, this moment provides a powerful and timely reminder of our… responsibility to create a more inclusive community,” said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and Adnoc chief executive, as the torch was lit at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi. For most of us, the Special Olympics will be a captivating series of competitive sporting events, reflecting the dedication of athletes from Botswana and Pakistan to the UK and France. But for many, including those with special needs, it has the power to inspire. And the hundreds of volunteers here in the UAE are seeing the stigmas surrounding disability being broken down before their eyes.

The UAE team has already made a storming start in the competition, with UAE athletes Micah and Jonah Hambleton winning gold and silver respectively in the triathlon on Friday. But the games will not begin in earnest until Thursday, with an extraordinary opening ceremony at Zayed Sport City. Attitudes towards people with disabilities have rightly come a long way since 1968, when Eunice and Sargent Shriver founded the Special Olympics World Games, but there is plenty of work still to be done. So as the Games get under way on Thursday, enjoy the sport, get behind the athletes and support the inclusivity that this event so powerfully represents.

Updated: March 9, 2019 07:09 PM

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