The countdown to the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics is on, with just weeks until the start of the sporting extravaganza.
More than 7,500 athletes from a record-breaking 192 countries are set to take part in the breathtaking spectacle, which will begin on March 14.
Ministers planning the event - the first time it has been staged in the Gulf – hope to redefine the boundaries of what is possible for those living with disabilities.
Some 3,000 coaching staff will be on hand to assist the athletes as well as 20,000 volunteers to take charge of close to half a million expected spectators.
“Next March the UAE will proudly host the special Olympics for the first time ever in the Middle East,” said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and chief executive officer of Adnoc.
“We will be bringing together close to 8,000 people - Special Olympics athletes from around the world - for a week of sports, entertainment and unity.
“These games will empower those with intellectual disabilities, or, as we know them here in the UAE, people of determination.
“Their courage will encourage the values of unity and inclusion that defines the Special Olympics message and mirrors the values of the UAE.”
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will take place from March 14 to 21.
It comes as the country proudly celebrates the centenary year of the birth of its Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed.
Organisers are hoping to recruit thousands of volunteers to assist with the event and help create a “lasting legacy”.
Authorities also hope the Games will act as a catalyst to job creation and provide a focus to improving the lives of those with disabilities.
In particular, officials plan on bettering existing transportation networks to help individuals with mobility problems and boosting training programmes to assist with their care.
“These games will demonstrate how much can be achieved against the toughest odds,” said Dr Al Jaber.
“They will strengthen our commitment to create a more fair world; a world where people of all abilities are treated with respect, accepted and above all celebrated.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that the games have a long-term, lasting impact.”
At a launch event for the start of the countdown on Tuesday, relatives and friends of 320-member strong UAE team a standing ovation.
Athletes chanted “UAE, UAE” before singing the national anthem as parents and officials joined in.
The squad will compete in a wide variety of sports including badminton, basketball, beach volleyball, football, cycling, judo, kayaking and swimming.
There will also be events in weightlifting, sailing, table tennis and gymnastics.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation, has been at the forefront of programmes designed to help individuals with disabilities.
She announced the new record of 192 competing nations – up from 172 when the event was last held two years ago in Austria.
“The UAE continues to be at the forefront of expanding inclusion and opportunity for people of determination throughout the region,” she said.
“So it is with great pleasure that I can announce that Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will set a new record for the number of participating countries, with 192 nations represented.
“This will truly be the most unified World Games in the history of Special Olympics.”
To ensure fans do not miss out on any of the action-packed week across 24 different sporting venues, an in-depth app is to be launched.
Officials said it would be full of athlete profiles, event schedules, ceremony timings and travel information to ensure spectators get the most from the Games.
“Empowering, supporting and encouraging Special Olympics athletes is a key part of the UAE’s vision of building a more inclusive and unified society," said Dr Amna Al Mazmi, Director of Policy and Strategy at the Executive Council in Dubai.
“Hosting Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 shows that the UAE is making great strides towards achieving this important goal.
“Dubai will also host three different sporting competitions during the World Games, including indoor pool swimming events, athletics competitions and open water swimming.