UAE women’s football team nets silver in Special Olympics Unified Cup in Detroit

The 11-member squad played against Namibia in the final

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The UAE women’s football team has won a silver medal in the Special Olympics Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan.

The 11-member squad competed against teams from India, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Burkina Faso and then faced Namibia in the final.

The tournament from July 31 to August 6 was the first global competition in which the UAE women’s Special Olympics football team had taken part since the coronavirus outbreak.

We developed a special communication with the special athletes after training together
Maha Mosa, goalkeeper with Al Ain FC

The unified games brings together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to break down barriers and build a community of acceptance and inclusion.

Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth and Chairwoman of Special Olympics UAE, said the country was proud of their achievement.

“The cup represents a great opportunity for Special Olympics UAE athletes to engage with other football players, who are just as passionate about the game,” she said.

She dedicated the achievement to Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Mother of the Nation, and a supporter of Emirati women and their participation in sporting events.

The team comprised six athletes with disabilities and five female players also called ‘unified partners'.

Integral part of community

Maha Mosa, a goalkeeper with Al Ain FC, described the games as an exciting experience.

“We developed a special communication with the special athletes after training together,” she told The National.

“It is very important that athletes with special needs should be part of the sporting community.”

The Special Olympics UAE unified women’s football team was formed in 2017 and participated in regional level competitions before the World Games in Abu Dhabi.

“The team didn’t have any chance to participate in international games during Covid and this is their first big tournament in the last two years,” said Amr Badawi, head of the UAE Special Olympics sports programmes and deputy head of the delegation.

Training for two weeks in Abu Dhabi before the team left for the US was crucial to preparations.

Daily breakfast meetings, training sessions, briefings before each game where coaches highlighted tactical plans for the next stage and regular evaluation were crucial to the team’s success.

“The training and daily meeting were very important because it helped the unified partners and our athletes get to know more about each other,” Mr Badawi said.

“It helps build a relationship and language that is easy to understand for everyone.

“Our aim is inclusion on and also off the field and we reached that during the competition."

More than 300 footballers with and without intellectual disabilities competed in the cup in Detroit, representing more than 20 countries.

The UAE team hope to compete in the unified football games in Brazil next year and will be preparing with more training sessions and international competitions.

The games are key to changing perceptions of the potential of athletes with intellectual disabilities, and carry the ambition to empower people of all abilities from all backgrounds.

The UAE national unified women’s football team includes people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The team was coached by Houriya Al Taheri, an Emirati football player-turned-coach.

“A few weeks ago, the team members didn’t know each other very well, but through the training we have seen incredible strength,” she said.

“The team was focused on training together and not leaving anyone behind, they grew together and helped each other. It was very rewarding to see the positive effects of inclusion and how they each looked out for one another.”

UAE Special Olympics athletes won 16 medals at the recent invitational games in Malta, where they were the only Arab country invited to participate.

Updated: August 08, 2022, 3:45 PM