Al Jazira players to wear Olympic logo in build-up to Abu Dhabi hosting the global games in March
UAE football club spreads message of support for Special Olympics
An Abu Dhabi football club is pitching in to support the Special Olympics - before the big kick-off for the historic event in the capital next year.
Two-time UAE Gulf League champions Al Jazira Club has unveiled a new kit bearing the logo of the Special Olympics World Games 2019, which will take over Abu Dhabi in March.
The team will proudly sport the new-look jersey throughout the build-up to the international event, starting with their opening league clash with Dubai's Al Ahli on Friday.
The eagerly-awaited sporting spectacle will mark the first time the Special Olympics have been held in the Middle East, with more than 7,000 athletes representing 170 countries to arrive in the UAE.
The event gives athletes with special needs an opportunity to showcase their skills on the world stage across individual and team sports.
Ahmed Al Gilani, 29, and his brother Abdulrahman, 24, will be among the athletes participating.
They said seeing Al Jazira footballers wearing the games logo was motivational. “We need as much support and encouragement as we can get,” they said.
Ahmed, whose speciality is running, also plays football, basketball and handball.
He came second in a worldwide championship for running on ice in Austria last year.
“Before going there, we had a training camp in Ski Dubai. I used to train everyday, whenever the coach summoned us,” he said.
The most significant moment of his athletic career, he said, was during the final race in Austria.
“My friend and I were running close to each other, taking turns being first and second. One time he would slow a bit so I could catch up with him, and another I would slow down. In the end he came first and I came second.”
Asked why he would give up his chance of victory, he said it was “to teach people the real spirit of sports”.
Investment firm Mubadala - a sponsor of both Al Jazira Club and the Special Olympics - said the logo deal would raise awareness of the biggest global sporting event to ever take place in the UAE.
“The Special Olympics 2019 in Abu Dhabi is a very special event. It is a sporting event on a global scale; this is happening in our backyard,” said Homaid Al Shimmari, deputy group CEO of Mubadala.
“It shows the commitment of Abu Dhabi and the UAE to ensuring people with special needs are an integral part of our society.
“I think it is our duty to sponsor this event to make sure it is successful and delivered with the standards and quality of the UAE.”
He described the athletes as “heroes who have a lot to teach us about being fit in an honourable manner”, therefore it was necessary to support them.
Mubadala has allowed its employees to volunteer at the event during working hours.
Mubadala has 30,000 employees across the UAE, and is keen on hiring employees with special needs in the future, he said.
Mr Al Shimmari said he is positive the Special Olympics will boost special-needs sports in the UAE, given the success of the Middle East North Africa (Mena) Special Olympics Regional Games, that took place in the capital in April.
“We have seen the impact of it and how committed and driven those groups are. Once they set their minds and are given a chance they can achieve a lot.”
He said he experienced this determination first hand, when he participated in a friendly volleyball match with a mixed team of the athletes.
Talal Al Hashemi, national director of Special Olympics UAE, said the initiative with Mubadala and Al Jazira Club would raise people’s awareness.
The UAE team has already prepared 250 athletes and is aiming for another 50, to participate in 24 events.
During the Mena games in April, the UAE team boasted 144 players – the biggest special-needs team it had ever formed.
Mr Al Hashemi said it was not difficult to select players for the Olympics.
“They have high determination and they can play any game. We have many players for football, basketball, tennis, table tennis and badminton.
“We faced a difficulty in finding swimmers for the long sea race. But then we selected pool swimmers and we are training them for the sea.”
“The idea to host the Special Olympics was to give a chance to various athletes to participate, and they were not chosen randomly. We have been holding sporting events for special-needs athletes all summer and based on that we picked them.”