Players dance at the closing ceremony of Special Olympics IX Menda Games in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Over the next week, the eyes of the world will be firmly focused on the UAE and Abu Dhabi, in particular, for a very special celebration of people of determination, community spirit, friendship and the creation of memories and bonds that will last lifetimes. The Special Olympics World Games formally commence on Thursday but already, in communities across the length and breadth of the UAE, there have been a series of gatherings to celebrate those taking part and an army of volunteers and organisers who are bringing this festival of fun and sporting activities here.

Already, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, have received the Special Olympics Flame of Hope, the traditional symbol of the Olympic gatherings.

The Special Olympics are unique. They do not have the panache and honour of the summer games that are greatly anticipated every four years. These Special Olympics do not have the same laudatory elements for the athletes and team players who take to the snow and ice of the Winter Games, nor do they fall in the shadows of the Special Olympiads that offer challenged athletes a world-class opportunity to compete on the global stage.

No, these Special Olympics are indeed truly special, creating memories that last for lifetimes. These games bestow joy for every person of determination who takes to any arena or participates in any event. They are already winners. They celebrate the joy of winning and the camaraderie of participation for all who have been determined to get to Abu Dhabi to take part. They are a celebration of humanity and its ability to see the sun shine and take joy from the spirit of being brave enough and determined enough to show that we are all the very same regardless of what impedes our progress or holds us back.

Special Olympians are truly winners, creating a playing field where life itself is truly celebrated, where the joy of simply being together is an acknowledgement of our humanity and our indomitable spirit. The fields and arenas of the Special Olympics are a great leveller, a reminder that we all have a duty of care and kinship to all, and that what makes us unique is our ability to overcome. And no gold medal is a worthy award for that.