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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Countdown begins to a truly special moment

Hope burns bright for an inclusive and empowering Olympics in the UAE next year

More than 7,500 athletes from a record-breaking 192 countries are set to take part in the breathtaking spectacle, which will begin in March next year.
More than 7,500 athletes from a record-breaking 192 countries are set to take part in the breathtaking spectacle, which will begin in March next year.

Just nine months since it last burned bright in Abu Dhabi, the Flame of Hope has returned to the city to signal the start of the countdown to next year’s Special Olympics World Summer Games. Less than one hundred days from now, some of the planet’s most inspirational people will gather in Abu Dhabi for an unparalleled celebration of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. “Special” is exactly the right adjective to apply to the 7,000 athletes from 170 countries who will take part in the flagship event next March. Each one of them has refused to allow intellectual disability to define them. Instead, determined to be the very best versions of themselves that they can be, they have risen far above the expectations of others.

Special is also an apt description for the Games themselves, for their unique ability to alter perceptions of people with disability and for the UAE’s passionate commitment to this cause. It was one which was embraced with enthusiasm by the crowds that flocked to the Special Olympics Mena Games in Abu Dhabi in March this year. The decision to award the capital hosting rights for the Middle East's first Special Olympics is an honour that reflects the UAE’s commitment to inclusivity and the empowerment of people of determination.

There is, of course, always more to be done. As Noura Alblooki, a student confined to a wheelchair because of a rare neurological disorder, noted in these pages recently, access remains a problem in many buildings in the UAE. A federal law on accessibility was passed in 2006. It must be more stringently enforced to enable people of all abilities to participate in public life. Nevertheless, much has changed since Ms Alblooki first starting using a wheelchair in 2000. With opportunities for people with physical and intellectual disabilities in education, jobs and sport, there are fewer limitations to achieving their dreams. When the opening ceremony begins for the 2019 Games in Zayed Sports City Stadium, the UAE and the entire world will see that there is, indeed, no such thing as impossible.