British athletes set to live out Olympic dreams in Abu Dhabi
Squad warms up for Special Olympics World Games with a visit from the UAE hosts - and a game of basketball
Britain's Special Olympics athletes are getting set for an "amazing" experience in Abu Dhabi - less than two months from the huge sporting spectacle.
On a cold morning in Sheffield, it wasn't just the prospect of sunnier climes that brightened the mood of the squad and organisers, who are looking forward to lining up for a history-making Special Olympics World Games in the UAE capital in March.
A 16-strong UAE delegation, including Rawdha Al Otaiba, deputy head of mission at the UAE Embassy in London, made a cultural connection to help the British contingent get ready for action during a get-together at the English Institute of Sport in Manchester.
Given the surroundings, it was perhaps no surprise that the competitive juices were soon flowing
The visiting party warmed up alongside the Great Britain football team, before taking part in an impromptu basketball game.
Joe McKenzie, a central midfielder, will be hoping to channel the abilities of former England captain Steven Gerrard, who now manages the 24-year-old's favourite football side, Glasgow Rangers, when he lines up for the Great Britain football team.
Mr McKenzie, originally from Inverness, Scotland, can't wait to fly off to the Middle East and broaden his sporting horizons.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 12. I’m looking forward to the experience. I’d like to see the sites and venue, just being there will be amazing,” he told The National, as he gears up for his first visit to the UAE.
He will join more than 7,500 athletes from 192 countries at an event celebrating the achievements of athletes with special needs, which is being held in the capital from March 14 to 21.
Michelle Carney, chief executive officer of Special Olympics Great Britain, has been overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the first Special Olympics to be held in the Middle East
“I’m super excited, like a kid. It just blows your mind - over 20,000 volunteers. It’s brilliant,” she said.
“Abu Dhabi have done an amazing job in terms of bringing the games and their local organising committee, which involves people with intellectual disabilities as well.
“What they’ve done is ensured those with intellectual disabilities are involved in all aspects.”
After being put through their paces by Great Britain's footballers, the UAE delegation took to the court for a basketball game, with the home team netting the win.
It took a while for Damir Davis, who turned 26 on Saturday, to catch his breath after the fast-paced game.
He has been playing the sport for about five years and can't wait to represent his country on the world stage.
“I want to have a good time, do my best and hopefully help the team and work together and have a lot of fun.
“I believe we can win.”
It was a busy day for the UAE visitors as they also tried their hand at table tennis, toured the institute and met athletes and organisers.
The Special Olympics not only exemplifies the spirit of competition, it is a shining beacon of hope, tolerance and inclusiveness.
Ms Al Otaiba is eager for the thousands of athletes descending on the UAE capital to embrace the country and feel at home.
“We want them to come and be engaged, know the society, know the culture, know the history and of course the heritage of the UAE. We are so delighted to host,” said Ms Al Otaiba, who led the delegation.
Citing the UAE’s 2019 Year of Tolerance, she said the Special Olympics was a crucial milestone in promoting respect and acceptance in the country.
“We have to think about how important it is for us to empower the youth.”
Abdulla Al Kaabi, cultural attache at the UAE Embassy in London, said the eyes of the world will be focused on the country when the Special Olympics begin in less than two months.
“We are focused on how we can present the UAE in good terms - we need people from all over the world to see our culture to know about the UAE. These events show that the UAE as a country believes in tolerance around the world.”
Updated: February 19, 2019 03:57 PM