Special Olympics closing ceremony: Abu Dhabi World Games draw to an end

Expect performances from global superstars, emotional farewells and a celebration of a week of determination

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The Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi will draw to a close on Thursday, accumulating in what is expected to be a celebration of sportsmanship, achievements and determination.

The grand finale at Zayed Sports City Stadium will be a celebration of the athletes, coaches, volunteers and hint at the legacy of the Games.

While the Flame of Hope will be extinguished and Special Olympics flag taken down in Abu Dhabi, the baton will be handed over to Sweden, who will host the Special Winter Games in 2021.

Here you will find live coverage of the closing ceremony from The National's reporters on the ground.

Read more of The National's coverage of the Game


21:02 Blog closes

That's a wrap from Abu Dhabi. A superb seven days of sport, celebration and determination. More to follow on our Special Olympics page.


20:47 Flame of Hope extinguished

The Flame of Hope, the Olympic flame for the Abu Dhabi World Games has been extinguished.

The flame disappeared through a trap door, marking the end of the Games.

Now, Keala Settle, the star of the Greatest Showman is singing This Is Me, the hit song from the musical film about identity and overcoming adversity.

Keana Settle brings down the house. Victor Besa  / The National 

She hits her crescendo with fireworks racing across the roof the stadium. Incredible timing.

And that wraps up the closing ceremony. What a climax.


20:40 UAE hands over Special Olympics to Sweden

The UAE has handed over the flag of the Special Olympics to Sweden, who will host the

next Games, marking the end of the UAE’s stewardship of the Games.

Athletes from the UAE and Sweden took part in the official handover ceremony.

A flag passed from UAE athletes to Swedish athletes officially handed over the Games, in a seamless transition.

In 2021 the Winter Games will be held in Sweden where competitions will take place in skiing, snowboarding and ice skating.

The handover came after by a short film and performance from Sweden. The film showed white powder snow, and athletes competing in a wide range of snow sports - as well as having fun in the snow.


20:29 Special Olympics flag taken down

Members of the Abu Dhabi police took down the flag of the Special Olympics, which was then followed by a performance from the next hosts of the Games, Sweden.

The Special Olympics flag is taken down. Reem Mohammed / The National


20:14 President of Liberia addresses stadium

"These games are a testament to your resilience, your commitment, your courage and your strength of will. I salute you", President of Liberia George Weah said, explaining how as a former professional sportsman he knows the power sports can have on your life.

"I'm glad to be in Abu Dhabi, which I consider as my second home," explaining how he ended his career as a professional football player in Abu Dhabi with Al Jazira.

Mr Weah played for Manchester City, Chelsea and AC Milan.


20:06 Nicole Scherzinger ... again!

Singer Nicole Scherzinger, the former Pussycat Dolls member has treated the audience to another song.

Nicole Scherzinger returns. Victor Besa / The National

Scherzinger has had a wardrobe change and is now performing a high-energy pop anthem with back up dancers.


20:05 World premiere of the video of Right Where I'm Supposed To Be

Now the audience is being treated to the world premiere of the anthem of the Special Olympics World Games Right Where I'm Supposed To Be.

The video samples footage from the world games, and features all of the performers of the song including Avril Lavigne.


20:00 Saudi singer Rashid al Majed performs

Now, Rashid al Majed, a popular Saudi singer has entered. Many of the volunteers and athletes continued to wave.

Everyone appears to be having a great time. Smiles all round. Many people are dancing.

Abu Dhabi, March 21, 2019.  Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
 Victor Besa/The National


19:55 Waleed Al Shami serenades athletes

Waleed Al Shami, an Iraqi singer, sang Ana Asli, a song showing his love for his nation as the athletes continued to enter.

Many of the athletes entered wearing their medals, showing them off to the camera, while others danced to the music.


19:42 Representatives of each nation enter

A small parade is beginning which consists of two athletes and a coach from each country: some 600 in total.

DJ Bliss, an Emirati artist, is playing while the athletes entered the stadium, waving and smiling.

The parade is a smaller version of the opening ceremony, which saw every athlete enter the stadium over two hours.


19:32 Emirati singer welcomes volunteers on stage

Hamad Al Ameri, a popular Emirati singer, takes to the stage to perform an new song as hundreds of volunteers streamed onto the stage.

The volunteers, who assisted in everything from communications and media to badminton, came out on the stage waving, smiling and clapping.

Many of them were Emirati, but many came from around the world, often having to pay their own way to the games and taking take off work.


19:27 Volunteer's uplifting speech steals the show

Thomas McCobb, a volunteer with intellectual disability, one of nearly 250, declared when asked how he feels he said: "Today I feel included!"

Mr McCobb explained how volunteering has improved his life. "In the last six days I truly felt

appreciated," he confessed, before declaring his final thought: "I don't want the games to end."


19:25 Timothy Shriver to athletes: be tougher than the tough

Timothy Shriver, the CEO of the Special Olympics send an uplifting message to all of the athletes at the Games.

Saying how many of the athletes might have be sad to go home he said:

“Its not always the world summer games, life is tough.

"And sometimes the world can seem cruel. Life can be tough. But be tougher than the tough. Stronger than the strong."


19:18 Timothy Shriver declares Abu Dhabi World Games the best ever

Timothy Shriver, the CEO of the Games, opens his speech with a "Happy Mothers Day" to all of the mothers. Mr Shriver's mother founded the Games 50 years ago.

Mr Shriver also thanked Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces.

"You gave us a home!" he told Sheikh Mohamed in front of a roaring crowd, before declaring the 2019 games "the best games in the history of the Special Olympics."


19:11 Nicole Scherzinger sings at closing ceremony

Nicole Scherzinger opens the closing ceremony singing Victorious.

Scherzinger is an official global ambassador for the Games.


19:06 Closing ceremony starts with a tribute to the volunteers

The closing ceremony began with a film tribute to the volunteers who helped make the Abu Dhabi World Games a possibility.

Some 15,000 voluntees are be in attendance for the games.


19:00 Closing ceremony party under way

Abu Dhabi, March 21, 2019.  Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Closing Ceremony.  The first dance number of the closing ceremony
Victor Besa/The National

There is a party atmosphere as Emirati DJ Saif and Sound warms up the crowd, Dan Sanderson reports

Fans in stands wave mobile phone lights and athletes, sitting at ground level in the playing surface area, already on their feet dancing.


Special Olympics closing ceremony.

 (Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section:  NA


18:40 Fans, family and athletes in stadium to see off 'perfect' Games

Athletes arrive for the closing ceremony. Victor Besa / The National

The National's Dan Sanderson is at the closing ceremony tonight. He has spoken to fans and athletes about what the Games means for the UAE.

Najoua Hidri, a Tunisian PE teacher at a government school in Abu Dhabi, said she had come to the Games to support her students, one of whom played football for the UAE.

She said she was looking forward to a more inclusive approach to education in the Emirates, which she believes will be one of the main legacies from the Special Olympics.

Athletes arrive for the closing ceremony. Victor Besa / The National

“It’s been really wonderful,” she said. “I think things will change for the better. Because they brought the event here, they are going to introduce more special needs pupils to the schools. I think that’s a really good thing.”

Hazzaa Jafar, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, described the games as “perfect”.

“The organisation has been good and it is like there is no flag for any country,” he said. “I think things will be more inclusive from now on.”


18:30 Closing ceremony to begin at 7pm


17:30 Games legacy: UAE pledges more jobs and training programmes for people with disabilities

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , March 21 – 2019 :- Left to Right – Tala Al Ramahi , Chief Strategy Officer, Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, Hessa Bint Essa Buhumaid, UAE Minister of Community Development, Mohammed Al Junaibi , Chairman of the Higher Committee for Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics International and Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and CEO, ADNOC Group during the closing press conference of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 held at ADNEC in Abu Dhabi. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Haneen

As the Special Olympics World Games come to an end, Abu Dhabi officials have pledged more training and support programmes for people with disabilities, Haneen Dajani reports.

“The legacy continues after closing ceremony and hard work does not stop after these games,” said Tala Al Ramahi, chief strategy officer at World Games Abu Dhabi.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) Group, said the company will aim to hire more people with disabilities.

He said Adnoc would tailor positions for potential employees to “enhance flexibility for them and their families”.

The UAE’s Special Olympics team was the largest of the Games with athletes competing in all 24 sports - earning a total of 182 medals.


16:55 What comes next after the success of Special Olympics World Games?

We spoke to Tala Al Ramahi, chief strategy officer of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 about the event's legacy.


16:30 Closing Ceremony declared a free event

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - March 14, 2019: A fireworks display marks the end of the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, at Zayed Sports City. 

( Mohamed Al Raeesi for the Ministry of Presidential Affairs )

Tonight’s Special Olympics closing ceremony has been declared a free event.

Just hours before the show is due to begin, it was announced that the Dh60 fare which has been charged for months would be waived.

Those who have already bought seats will get a refund, organisers said.

“We are pleased to announce that the Closing Ceremony will be open to the public for free, and those who have already purchased tickets will be refunded by Ticketmaster Middle East,” Special Olympics World Games announced on its social media platforms.

“We invite you to join us to celebrate this historic close to the UAE’s proud hosting of the worlds largest sports and humanitarian event and most unified Games in the history of Special Olympics.”


16:15 Be warned: Sweden will not be this hot

In the closing press conference of the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, Timothy Shriver, the chief executive of the games said he was already looking forward to the winter games in Sweden, but warned the weather might not be as hospitable as in Abu Dhabi.

"We will be cold on the mountains, in the skating rink, on snowboards and skates and skis. In just 24 short months, the world will be back together again," he said.

Abu Dhabi will be passing on the baton to Stockholm at tonight's closing ceremony.


16:10 Special Olympics 'a perfect nexus between sport and humanity'

Nick March, an Assistant Editor at The National, who was honoured to be asked to hand out medals to competitors this week at Adnec writes of the transformative effect of sport.

"Energy, goodwill and camaraderie have abounded in the competition halls and venues all week, feeding a sense that anything might be possible. It is an infectious mindset," he writes


15:55 Nicole Scherzinger to lead star-studded line-up for Special Olympics closing ceremony

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Nicole Scherzinger attends The Recording Academy And Clive Davis' 2019 Pre-GRAMMY Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 9, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

Some of the biggest names in international and regional music will perform at the closing ceremony.

Singers Nicole Scherzinger and Keala Settle are among those taking to the stage at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi. Also performing on the night will be Bahrani-Saudi musician Rashed Al Majed, Iraqi star Waleed Al Shami and Emirati singer Hamad Al Ameri.

Scherzinger is a former member of the Pussycat Dolls and a global ambassador for the Special Olympics, while Settle is known for singing the mega-hit This Is Me, from the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman film.

The ceremony will also feature the world premiere of the music video for the official song of 2019 Special Olympics, Right Where I'm Supposed To Be.


15:45 What to expect from the closing ceremony

If last week's opening ceremony is anything to go by, the closing ceremony will not be an event to miss.

Here's what you might expect from the closing ceremony starting at 7pm UAE time:

  • Participation from athletes, volunteers and coaches
  • Speeches congratulating all those involved
  • Bold performances showcasing the values of the games, including performances from Nicole Scherzinger and The Greatest Showman film star, Keala Settle
  • A handing over of the Games to Sweden, the next host
  • Huge theatrical displays – the opening ceremony had fireworks, dramatic light shows and non-stop music