Organizers say the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi will leave behind a series of school and community programs aimed at boosting inclusion for people of determination in the years to come.
Those plans involve the launch of a nationwide program to pair up public school students, with and without disabilities, to take part in sports and other activities. The program is called Unified Champion Schools, and was launched with the hashtag #BeUnified.
Another development, the forming of a Mothers of Determination Association, will address how to best support the needs of families with children who have intellectual disabilities. And Dr Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and chief executive of ADNOC Group, pledged that the company would launch a new recruitment and employee program to provide people of determination with a range of learning support services at ADNOC schools.
Mohamed Al Junaibi, chairman of the Higher Committee for Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, said the event would be a true catalyst for change.
“We launched a lot of activities and initiatives in the build up to the World Games and have shown everyone there is no barrier when it comes to achievement for people with intellectual disabilities,” he said. “Although it’s the end of the World Games, this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the Special Olympics in the UAE.”
Dr Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, also promised that the UAE and wider region will see and feel the impact of the Games for generations.
“As we come to the end of World Games here in UAE, it is the beginning of the next part of our movement’s journey — a journey that started 50 years ago. A journey to a world without discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities,” said Dr Shriver. “A place where inclusion is fully mainstream. Where all sport is unified sport. Where all schools are unified schools and where the value of full inclusion is the accepted value of the next generation of leaders. Where inclusive health and healthcare is the standard across the world. Where every workforce at every level is an inclusive workforce.”
The eight-day event wrapped up Thursday at Zayed Sports City with a closing ceremony honoring its 20,000 volunteers.
The closing ceremony featured an athletes parade, solo performances by Bahraini-Saudi singer Rashed Al Majed, Iraqi star Waleed Al Shami and Emirati singer Hamad Al Ameri, as well as Nicole Scherzinger, and marked the world premiere of the music video for the event’s official song, Right Where I’m Supposed to Be.
Tony Marques, a father from Puerto Rico whose 29-year-old daughter Natalia won two medals in athletics, said the Games have changed the way people view the Middle East.
“I was surprised when I got to know that the World Games was scheduled to be held in the UAE,” said Marques. “I would have never thought of this combination.”
Marques was speaking to Brendyn Monsorate, Bilal Hafeez and Christopher Swaminathan, three people of determination who are serving as special correspondents for the event.
“The atmosphere has been simply brilliant,” he said. “This is exactly what our children need.”
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi began on March 14, drawing to the capital 7,500 athletes, 3,000 coaches and their family and friends. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, hosted the global humanitarian and sporting event.
Tickets for the closing ceremony, which begins at 7pm, are available for Dh60.
Featured photo: Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.