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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Special Olympics torch relay continues through Al Ain

Athletes and police officers carried The Flame of Hope to an early morning tour of Al Ain Zoo

Torch runners at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain. Courtesy MOI
Torch runners at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain. Courtesy MOI

The Special Olympics torch relay continued its journey across the UAE today, with a visit to school pupils in Al Ain.

Athletes and police officers carried The Flame of Hope as they ran, walked and cycled to an early morning tour of Al Ain Zoo.

Athletes then met dozens of school pupils as well as a marching band from the Desert Learning Centre in the city.

“The Special Olympics athlete’s oath speaks to ‘being brave in the attempt’,” said David Mettin, of Slate Belt Regional Police Department, Pennsylvania, USA.

“I have had the honour and privilege in watching our athletes be brave and courageous - exemplifying great sportsmanship in athletic competition.”

The Flame of Hope torch relay began its journey across the Emirates on March 4 from Wadi Wurayah in Fujairah.

During its 10-day journey, it will be carried to some 100 landmarks before arriving at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi in time for the Games’ opening ceremony on March 14.

On Tuesday, the torch heads to Madinat Zayed and Mirfa in the capital, taking in sights including the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Ghada Ali, a PE teacher from Al Maali School in Al Ain, said she brought her pupils to see the torch to emphasise the importance of sport in women’s lives.

“Sport outside the home is not considered important for girls here,” she said. “Today, our girls can begin to see the importance of sport for their health.

“They see these athletes have hopes and are happy with their life. They learn that if they have a goal they must work for it, just like these athletes do.”

Before long, her pupils were deep in conversation with the athletes.

“We’re proud of them,” said Rouda Nasser Al Shimmsi, 11, a grade six pupil.

“At the Olympics people are going to see that it’s important not to judge others.”

Chaica Al Qassimi, 22, a martial artist from Sharjah who will be a judo referee at the Games, urged the youngsters to get more involved in sport.

“I don’t want to see young women training themselves to impress their friends,” she said.

“Love your body. Play sports. Sports help you feel good and be good.”

Pupils jostling to take pictures with the torch runners were soon joined by bagpipers and the zoo’s bird keepers, who manoeuvred through the crowds with their birds of prey.

Marching band members gave international visitors an impromptu lesson in the lithe steps of the ayala, a traditional Gulf dance. But instead of dancing to chanting, they danced to the beat of the bagpipes.

It was a fitting way for Al Ain to begin celebrating the Games, which run from March 14 to 21 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Some 7,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches from 190 nations are set to participate in the global event, the first time it has been held in the Middle East.

“I’ve been on three legs of the torch run but I’ve ever seen a country embrace it like the UAE,” said June Worden, a sergeant and retired New York state police officer. “I mean that.”

Updated: March 11, 2019 10:15 PM

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