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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

With the Special Olympics, the UAE celebrates inclusiveness

The Games create sporting opportunities for people of determination while combating prejudice 

The UAE has become a major part of this movement led by Summer Olympics to bring the joy of competitive sport to people of determination across the world. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The UAE has become a major part of this movement led by Summer Olympics to bring the joy of competitive sport to people of determination across the world. Chris Whiteoak / The National

At the opening ceremony of Special Olympics IX Mena Games on Saturday night, Shamma Al Mazrui, the UAE’s Minister of State for Youth Affairs, eloquently summed up the purpose of the event. “Special Olympics”, she said, “carries the torch of a divine mission that not only empowers athletes with intellectual disabilities to play. It empowers the character of an athlete and the entire ecosystem: their hope and belief, their bravery and determination to become all that they can be.” There are an estimated 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world, and Special Olympics has made enormous strides since its inauguration five decades ago in bringing the joy and competitive spirit of sport to people of determination across the world.

The Special Olympics IX Mena Games have brought together around 1,000 athletes from 32 countries. They were supported by 5,000 volunteers. This event, as Tim Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics, told The National, is part of a dual effort to create sporting opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities while combating the prejudices that limit their growth by prodding society “to recognise people of determination, to recognise their gifts, their capacities, their resilience and their dignity”. This movement, Mr Shriver said, serves as a “teacher”: it instills pride in the athletes who compete and tolerance in those without disabilities.

The UAE has become a major part of this movement. Next year, this country will host the Special Olympics World Summer Games, which will mark 50 years of the launch of Special Olympics. Some 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches from more than 170 countries will take part in what is billed to be the world’s largest sporting and humanitarian event of the year. As Mr Shriver said, the UAE, with its commitment to Special Olympics, is sending the message that “we want the challenge, we want to do better”. This “desire to improve is the most important thing” in an endeavour that seeks ultimately to create an inclusive society. The Special Olympics IX Mena Games were the first big step in that journey.