Special Olympics: the sporting event that is closest to our hearts

Sheikh Zayed built this nation on the principles of respect, tolerance, inclusivity and hope, writes Mariam Al Mehairbi


Sri Lanka, blue, plays against Oman at IX MENA Special Olympic games held at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center.

The Healthy Athletes program provides free health screenings for 1,500 people with intellectual and physical challenges during the games. 

(Photo: Reem Mohammed/ The National)

Reporter:  Ramola Talwar
Section:  SP
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As the Special Olympics IX Mena Games ends, I feel overwhelmed by the determination of the athletes, with the pride I felt with every single score that was made and with the happiness and joy that I felt by seeing the smiles on their faces. Athletes from 32 different countries have come together to demonstrate to us that the impossible becomes possible when you have the courage to try.

Fifty years ago, Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a vision to make society more inclusive to people with intellectual disabilities through sport. Over the years, the movement has transformed into what we see today, involving people from all over the world. They come together to celebrate the endless potential of human determination.

Mrs Shriver said at the first Special Olympics opening ceremony in 1968: "In ancient Rome, the gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips: 'let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt'. Today, all of you young athletes are in the arena. Many of you will win. But even more important, I know you will be brave and bring credit to your parents and to your country."

The Special Olympics is more than just integrating people of determination in society. It is about spreading hope and pride. It is about having the courage to push yourself, to know that no obstacle cannot be overcome. Families had a chance to feel proud for their son or daughter as they participated in an event of this calibre. Being different comes with its challenges and misconceptions, The games brought us together to raise awareness and break those barriers. It is the sporting event that is the closest to our hearts.

The event beautifully coincided with the Year of Zayed, our Founding Father, whose vision has made it possible for us to host events like the Special Olympics. Sheikh Zayed built this nation on the principles of respect, tolerance, inclusivity and hope, and the Special Olympics remind us of how much he believed in human potential.

Although I feel sad that this amazing week has ended, I am excited and proud because the Special Olympics World Games will be held in Abu Dhabi next year. We were inspired, moved, filled with hope and confidence in the human determination with the regional games, and we look forward to the world games next year. The Special Olympics is not just about sport, it's about hope, pride and love, it's about determination, courage and potential. We must thank the athletes for teaching us these valuable lessons. They had won our hearts even before the competition started.