Tears of pride at Special Olympics UAE Games in Abu Dhabi

More than 600 athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities are taking part in the event to empower and foster inclusion

Powered by automated translation

More than 600 athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities from across the Emirates have come together in Abu Dhabi to celebrate the unifying power of sport.

The inaugural Special Olympics UAE Games officially opened at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre on Friday.

Parents and organisers have told of their immense pride over the staging of the event, which continues the significant legacy of Abu Dhabi's hosting of the Special Olympics World Games in 2019.

The opening ceremony began to cheers of athletes and proud parents celebrating inclusion, determination, and the power of sport to unify.

The event started with a parade by a marching band who were followed by hundreds of athletes and their coaches through the halls of the exhibition centre and on to the stage, each carrying a sign representing their teams.

These remarkable athletes personify resilience, they continue to inspire us all
Talal Al Hashemi, National Director of Special Olympics UAE

Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamdan, President of the UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation, was in attendance for proceedings.

The Games, which are scheduled to run until Monday, June 10, have seen competitors showcasing their skills in bowling, badminton, basketball, football, powerlifting and e-sports.

The aim is to empower people of determination, promote inclusion and offer a chance for much-needed health checks.

Immense pride

Joanna Holt’s daughter, Rebecca Hatcher, 26, is participating in the powerlifting and Ms Holt told The National she breaks down in tears whenever she sees Ms Hatcher compete.

“She had never been on a team before. She was never really included. She was always the last one to be picked for everything and suddenly she came into her own,” Ms Holt said.

“She became very impressed, she became very health conscious, and she just loves everything. It has been absolutely marvellous.”

Hollie Murphy, founder and chief executive of Heroes of Hope, a non-profit organisation aimed at developing sporting, social and interpersonal skills for people of determination, described the opening ceremony as a dream.

“For us, kind of being here is quite a momentous occasion,” she said. “I think not just for the athletes; I think for coaches and the families, it's a bit surreal to be part of it all. So we're very excited to be here.”

Fatma Mohammed, head of strategy and projects at Special Olympics UAE and chief executive of the UAE Games, said the event is to “celebrate humanity”.

It also celebrates where boundaries are broken and the perceptions of people's abilities are changed,” she told The National.

“Today, everyone sees people of determination, with intellectual disabilities, with limited abilities, but through Special Olympics and through the championships and their achievements, all of these perceptions are just gone whenever they see the abilities of these people.”

Health checks

Screenings will be available to all participating athletes, covering feet and hearing health, oral and dental health, mental health, and eye checks, which are managed by more than 160 doctors and medical volunteers from across the country.

Doctors from the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Algeria will participate in a healthcare training session in collaboration with Special Olympics Mena.

Winners of the Local Golisano Health Leadership Award, the highest accolade offered by Special Olympics for organisations that contribute to the expansion of inclusive and compassionate healthcare, will also be announced during the Games.

“Following the tremendous success of the Unified Schools UAE Games, we are proud to mark the official launch of the second phase of this landmark event for clubs and centres for people of determination,” said Talal Al Hashemi, national director of Special Olympics UAE and chairman of the UAE Games.

“These remarkable athletes personify resilience, they continue to inspire us all and demonstrate the power of sport to drive inclusion and unity.

“Through their participation in the Special Olympics UAE Games, we encourage them to develop their skills, build lasting friendships, and celebrate the success of their dedication and teamwork.”

Mr Al Hashemi added that the team at Special Olympics UAE are establishing the nation as a “global leader in empowering people of determination across all sectors”.

The history of Special Olympics UAE

Special Olympics UAE was established as an independent organisation in October 2017, under the direction of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

Sheikha Mariam bint Mohamed was appointed as honorary president, while Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of Community Development, as chairwoman of the board of trustees.

The organisation aims to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through sport while providing them with leadership opportunities to help them display their talents and integrate them with mainstream society.

Special Olympics UAE has launched a variety of community programmes, including those focused on families and young athletes. It has also introduced a number of initiatives to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to create a more inclusive society.

It received international recognition from the International Special Olympics Foundation-USA in December 2017.

Updated: June 09, 2024, 2:14 PM