UAE to be first stop for Special Olympics flame

The Flame of Hope is to pass through Dubai and Abu Dhabi to mark the start of the sixth regional Special Olympics.

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ABU DHABI // The Flame of Hope is to pass through Dubai and Abu Dhabi next month to mark the start of the sixth regional Special Olympics. The flame, travelling from Athens, will arrive in time for the opening ceremony of the Middle East and North Africa games, being held between Nov 15 and 21. Mohammed al Hamli, the chairman of the UAE Special Olympics committee, said he was delighted to have the flame present at the opening ceremony, which will take place in Abu Dhabi.

"This is the first time we will have a lit torch present at the regional games, and it is a great opportunity for our country and for raising awareness about our talented athletes with special needs," he said. "The UAE became a front-runner when we were planning the Flame of Hope's journey because it is already hosting regional games for the Special Olympics, and it has a strong reputation for caring for its athletes with special needs."

It is the second time the UAE has hosted the games, having been its venue two years ago. The flame will be "united" with another celebrating the Special Olympics World Winter Games being held in Idaho, in the US, from Feb 7 to 13. After leaving the UAE, the flame will be carried through several cities across the world before reaching Boise, the host city for the Idaho games. A team of 24 Emirati athletes - two women and 22 men - will compete there.

"We want to honour this rare opportunity. By uniting the two torches, we are showing that people themselves can also unite," said Ayman Wahab, Special Olympics international representative for the MENA region. A security team will guard the flame on its journey around the world and make sure it is not extinguished between its ignition in Athens on Nov 12 and the end of the winter games. The Idaho games are expected to attract up to 3,000 athletes from more than 85 nations to compete in seven Olympic-type sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoe racing and speed skating.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae