Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Danish ambassador proud to lead out nation at Special Olympics World Games

Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin champions the inclusive values of the Abu Dhabi Games

Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin, Danish ambassador to the UAE, will be cheering on his country's athletes at the Special Olympics World Games. Leslie Pableo for The National
Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin, Danish ambassador to the UAE, will be cheering on his country's athletes at the Special Olympics World Games. Leslie Pableo for The National

Denmark’s ambassador to the UAE will be glowing with pride when he leads out his nation at the Special Olympics World Games next week.

Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin champions the humanitarian values of the Special Olympics movement, having seen at firsthand how his own country supported people with disabilities.

His older sister suffered brain damage at birth, but thanks to the values of equality and inclusivity cherished by the Games, it hasn’t held her back from reaching her goals.

It is a story that will be echoed by many of the thousands of athletes from all corners of the world descending on Abu Dhabi for the first Games to be held in the Middle East.

“Fortunately, because Denmark has a high degree of support for people with mental disabilities and inclusion, my sister has been able to have a fairly normalised life,” the ambassador says.

“This is what is important about the Special Olympics; it has given people an opportunity to go out and do something special.

“Every time you jump higher and score a goal, it is not only a victory against your opponents but a victory for yourself,” he says.

Mr Mellbin is delighted that Denmark will have a larger squad in Abu Dhabi than any other Nordic nation, with almost 90 athletes representing the country.

“I was happily surprised that we have the largest team,” he says.

“I think there are two reasons for that. One, that in Denmark we try to have inclusive societies, through the social structure and the way we try to include people of determination in society as active participants.

“The other thing is that we have facilities and support systems that allow them to pursue their passion in sports.”

Mr Mellbin says the unifying power of sport will be on display in Abu Dhabi.

Whatever difficulties they have overcome and challenges they have faced, every athlete taking part in the Games will have his or her eyes on victory.

“It is the sweetness of victory, the bitterness of defeat – it is all these human passions that we all feel and share and they will be brought out at the Special Olympics,” he says.

“You have this shared human feeling, so when you have a Special Olympics all of us can see these strong human emotions playing out in the individual.”

The ambassador says inclusion and acceptance are at the heart of the Games and are in line with the UAE’s vision, highlighted by the Year of Tolerance.

“The whole idea of the Special Olympics is bringing people of determination out of the shadows and into society, and making sure that we have this connection between acceptance and inclusion which I also think goes beautifully well with the Year of Tolerance,” Mr Mellbin says.

“It is a great of way combining an international event with the national drive.”

The ambassador will lead out the Denmark team at the opening ceremony of the Games on Thursday and is looking forward to being part of the sporting spectacle.

He has a lifelong love of sport and went to school with one of his country’s footballing heroes, Soren Lerby, who represented Denmark at the 1986 World Cup.

“Of course I could never compare myself with his level,” the ambassador says.

“Once you’ve seen that level you understand why you are not a world-class soccer player yourself but still the sport brought immense pleasure to me and this human passion it brings out is so strong.”

That passion will be evident as Special Olympics athletes compete across 24 sports.

The ambassador says hosting the Games is a milestone for progress in the UAE.

“The UAE has taken a tremendous step forward. We have seen that in many ways.

“The fact the Special Olympics is being hosted here is a great show of tolerance but I also think that there are further steps to be taken in the culture and the traditions of the entire region. But having this event here is a game changer.”

Mr Mellbin took up the post of Danish ambassador to the UAE in September.

The country is home to about 2,700 Danish residents and almost 250 Danish companies operate here, such as shipping group Maersk, diabetes care leader Novo Nordisk and water security company Grundfos.

Updated: March 9, 2019 09:47 PM

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