Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Special Olympics: Team SOGB departs for Abu Dhabi

The British delegation received a big send-off in London

Celebrities and well-wishers gathered in London on Thursday evening to support British athletes as they depart for the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE Embassy in London threw a send-off reception in Kensington to wish all the athletes the best of luck in 2019’s biggest international sporting event.

In total, 128 British athletes are set to travel to Abu Dhabi.

At the event, the athletes received messages of support via video link from celebrities and sporting icons including footballer Wayne Rooney and former Paralympic footballer Jack Rutter.

Among the athletes was basketball player Emma Hibbert from Derbyshire. She told The National she was excited about heading out to the Middle East for the first time.

“I just can’t wait to go out with my team mates and have some fun,” Emma said.

Andrew Stuart, 19, from Dunblane, Scotland will be competing in the golf at his first ever Special Olympics World Games, having started the sport at the age of eight.

“I’m excited about being able to compete and to meet new people from around the world. And to play golf of course,” he said.

Special Olympics GB chief executive Michelle Carney said there was a mixture of nerves and excitement in the British team as they prepared to fly out on Friday.

“We’ve got 128 athletes here and more than 60 coaches heading out to the world’s biggest sporting event in 2019 to compete with 7,500 athletes from all more than 190 countries,” she said.

“Many of our athletes have never been on a plane, let alone to the Middle East.”

Michelle said she hoped the Special Olympics would help to break down commonly-held misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities.

“I hope we can show that anything is possible if you give opportunities and create environments where they can share their successes. The big stories we hear about are about friendships and camaraderie,” she said.

“Our athletes have been training in Britain in the same facilities as Olympians and Paralympians. We want to show them that they deserve to train in such places because they are representing their country.”

The Special Olympians will be competing in the highest quality sporting venues the UAE has to offer – including Zayed Sports City Stadium, which recently hosted the final of the 2019 Asian Cup.

Downton Abbey actor and Special Olympics GB ambassador Jim Carter hopes the event will send a message that no one should be excluded from sport.

“The Special Olympics is huge for people with intellectual disabilities because so often they can be left very isolated,” he said.

“In this event, the measurement of success in the sport is not the major objective, like in the Olympics or Paralympics. Here it’s about participation, mixing with other people and gaining confidence.

“The more that people can be pulled into the mainstream and put into the spotlight in events, the better.”

Updated: March 8, 2019 06:27 PM

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