Abu Dhabi: The road to the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi 2019 is now official after a signing ceremony took place in the capital between officials from the Special Olympics and its UAE counterparts.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces was in attendance for the official signing. The games will be historical for not only the UAE, but also the Arab world as it is the first time the region plays host to a multi-discipline sporting event of this magnitude.

More than 7,000 specially abled athletes from 170 different countries will be competing at the Games, with over half a million spectators expected to visit. “Our aim is to be the best, [to hold] the greatest sports event ever held in the UAE, [and] the greatest sports event in the world in 2019,” said Dr Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics.

Dr Shriver said that the Special Olympics World Games was much more than a sporting event, but a movement that championed the rights and inclusion for people with disabilities.

“[Disabled people] come from every culture, every race, every religion, every geography, and every family … They will come to here [to Abu Dhabi] representing every culture in the world, not the rich and the mighty, but the vulnerable, perhaps the poor, but [also] the rich in spirit.

Dr Shriver went on to praise the UAE and said that the country was a fitting host nation for the Games as it represented all of the ideals held by the Games.

“Here in your country, your Highness [President Shaikh Khalifa] has created a minister of tolerance, a ministry of tolerance — a ministry that is dedicated to the ideals that children should grow up learning tolerance … learning empathy, learning self gift, [and] learning compassion. We are grateful for this.

“We can change the world, we can issue an invitation from this nation in the 21st century to the world,” he added.

Majid Al Usaimi, National Director, Special Olympics UAE, who himself is disabled, said he was very proud that Abu Dhabi would be hosting the Special Olympics World Games in 2019.

“It is like a dream come true. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad is one of reasons behind this, he made it his priority to look after people with disabilities and to integrate them in the community.

“We are very proud of our leadership and all of this is the positive result of the big project they have done for us. Shaikh Mohammad wanted the world to know that people with disabilities are able to participate in the society — including the ability to do sports,” he added.

Al Usaimi said that it was important to continue involving special needs people within society, and that the Special Olympics World Games was one such way.

“In any population around 10 per cent of the population are people with disabilities. In the UAE if we take that number with an estimated population of around seven to eight million, then we are talking about 700,000 people with disabilities. This should therefore create a long-term strategy that involves disabled people in society,” he added.

Key Facts

Abu Dhabi Special Olympics World Games 2019

22 different sports disciplines

7000 athletes

170 nations

500,000 spectators

2,500 coaches and delegates

20,000 volunteers