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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Oi ref! Special Olympics on the hunt for referees for Middle East's biggest sporting event

Officials say UAE is on track to host Games 

Khalfan Al Mazrouei, managing director of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 speaks at a press conference with Saud Alabdulaziz, senior advisor for sport at the Union of the Arab National Olympics Committees. Victor Besa / The National 
Khalfan Al Mazrouei, managing director of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 speaks at a press conference with Saud Alabdulaziz, senior advisor for sport at the Union of the Arab National Olympics Committees. Victor Besa / The National 

Hundreds of officials are being recruited from across the Middle East to assist with the UAE’s staging of the Special Olympics World Games next year.

Match referees from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman are all set to participate in what will the biggest sporting event ever organised in the GCC.

On Tuesday, Khalfan Al Mazrouei, managing director of the Games, said the Union of Arab National Olympic Committees (UANOC) was helping the emirates to find and recruit suitable candidates.

More than 7,000 athletes from 176 countries are expected to take part in the event, along with close to half a million spectators.

"We see the Special Olympics as an event which can showcase the Middle East," said Mr Al Mazrouei.

“The UANOC approached us to find a way to work together on finding referees.

“And today we signed an agreement to secure officials from all over the Arab region to help us manage the Games.”

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The Special Olympics World Games will be held in Abu Dhabi from March 14 to 21, 2019.

Organisers said 3,000 coaches needed to help stage the event had already been found and that 10,000 out of the 20,000 volunteers required had also been recruited.

In an interview with The National, Mr Al Mazrouei said the UAE was right “on track” in terms of its preparations.

"We already have 10,000 volunteers with six months left before the Games begin," he said.

“We’re ahead and we’re pretty sure we’ll get more than the numbers we need. We plan to start training officials online initially and from there identify what category they’re best suited for.”

As part of the event, athletes will be invited to stay in the homes of Emiratis throughout the UAE.

The idea – known as the host town programme – aims to give competitors a flavour of the culture of the country.

“The host town program is being led by the Ministry of Community Development,” said Mr Al Mazrouei.

“Its main focus is to teach athletes about our culture, allowing them to meet other families here. Each emirate will organise special events for them.”

Mr Al Mazrouei also sought to allay any concerns athletes or spectators may have over visiting the UAE.

He said there were many misconceptions about the region, and assured fans planning to travel to the Games that everything possible was being done to make the event a huge success.

“All bodies within the UAE - whether federal or local - are working together to make sure that we host the safest event in the Middle East,” he said.

“The UAE is a multicultural country and we were sure from day one that we’d win the bid to host the event because we want to create a legacy (of sporting success).

“One of the aims of Special Olympics is to always empower our athletes, and we look forward to doing just that over the coming months.

"We are dedicated to ensuring that athletes of determination receive the same level of support any athlete participating in an Olympic Games would so that they can perform to the best of their ability at the World Games.”