UAE Special Olympics athletes are breaking new ground in a bid to represent Abu Dhabi in an international basketball competition.
Three “unified” teams, which include athletes with intellectual disabilities as well as those without, are taking part in the Abu Dhabi Sports Council 3X3 Quest Tour.
They will play 3x3 basketball, pronounced three-ex-three, which includes three players on each side, who compete on a half-sized court for a game lasting seven minutes, or no more than 10 minutes if it is tied.
It is the most widely played urban team sport in the world, a study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee found.
Traditional basketball games are played on a full court, with more players (five) and for a longer duration.
Both versions of the sport are played in the Olympics.
“3x3 helps players with lower abilities, because they just play on a half court,” said Amr Badawi, head of sports at Special Olympics UAE.
One unified team has already gained a place in the 3X3 Quest Tour finals on October 22, after winning three out of four matches against able-bodied teams.
The other unified two teams will compete this weekend for their place in the finals.
The winner will go on to represent Abu Dhabi in the Abu Dhabi Masters FIBA 3x3 World Tour, of men's 3x3 basketball teams representing global cities, which will be held in the capital at the end of the month.
The emirate last hosted the competition in 2016.
It is the first time a Special Olympics team has competed in such an event, said Mr Badawi.
“This is our first participation in a community event. We have a big acceptance in the community now. This has given our programmes a huge boost,” he said.
“And it’s helping us to prepare for the World Games, which will happen in Berlin in 2023. Basketball will be one of the main sports. So we are thrilled to have this opportunity.”
The three unified teams include 12 players in total, six of whom are Special Olympic athletes with intellectual disabilities.
“This is the message of the unified sport. This is real inclusion,” said Mr Badawi.
He said he was proud a unified team won a place in the finals, but winning was not the point in playing.
“To be honest when we are participating in any event, we are not focusing on winning,” he said.
“We are focusing on participating, we are focusing on friendship, focusing on the spirit. Winning is secondary. We are proud of course, but we are proud more that they are accepted in the community and we are playing with able-bodied people.”
UAE's Olympic legacy
The Abu Dhabi Sports Council 3X3 Quest Tour final will be held on Friday, October 22. The winners will be awarded entry to play in the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Abu Dhabi Masters on October 29 and 30.
It will be the third time the city has hosted the tour.
The UAE has been a major promoter of the Special Olympics movement.
In 2019, Abu Dhabi hosted the Special Olympics World Games, welcoming thousands of athletes from all over the world for an uplifting celebration of sport's enduring ability to unite and provide opportunity to all.
The legacy of the global event is still being felt more than two years on, with the UAE's basketball players the latest to take a shot at showcasing their skills.