The Special Olympics World Games, held in Abu Dhabi in March, provided a stage for more than 7,000 athletes to demonstrate their sporting prowess. The Games united people of all abilities and broke down misconceptions about those with physical and intellectual disabilities. They even sowed the seeds of a more inclusive UAE, and spread a message of hope throughout the region. And this week it emerged that the event generated almost Dh1 billion for the nation's economy, according to a report by PwC Middle East. From the 304 jobs created, to the 18,000 spectators who came from overseas and the contracts handed out to local suppliers, the Games had a colossal economic impact on the nation. The UAE did not host the Games for financial reasons – far from it. Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, drove the mission from the start. But the content of the report is a wonderful bonus.
For people of determination, the Special Olympics were empowering, elevating the conversation around disability and promising a lasting legacy. These Games – the largest on record – were not just about sport, but the health, employment prospects and quality of life of those living with disabilities. All athletes, for instance, were offered free health screenings during their stay in the UAE. It is no wonder Tim Shriver, chair of the Special Olympics, called them "the best Games in the history of the Special Olympics".
The dust might have settled on the event, but its positive impact will remain for years to come. The 31 initiatives for people with special needs, launched by the UAE’s rulers before the games had even started, set the tone for an event that promised to improve lives. The nation proved to the world that it can deliver a mega-event of international quality. Thousands had their eyes opened by the Games. And the UAE economy benefited in the process. In a fractious region, it sometimes seems there is little to cheer. When it comes to the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics, it is safe to say we are all winners.