From left: Zakiia Ahmad, badminton player, Mohammad Tajer, karate and horseback riding participant and Saleh Al Merri bowling player at the IPIC Arena at Zayed Sports City on Tuesday. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi will hold the “best Special Olympics ever” and “one of the finest sporting events the world has ever seen”, it was claimed on Tuesday.

The Special Olympics World Games will be staged at various venues across the city between March 14-21, 2019 for 7,000 intellectually-challenged athletes.

Abu Dhabi was unanimously chosen to host the first Middle East event for people with special needs and disabilities last November, and its credentials were effusively praised at a press conference at the IPIC Arena at Zayed Sports City.

“It will be one of the finest sporting events the world has ever seen,” Chairman of Special Olympics, Dr Timothy Shriver, said of the extravaganza, which was first staged in 1968 and which will involve 22 Olympic-style sports and athletes from 170 countries.

“We will show the world that Abu Dhabi will have the best Games ever and [be] the benchmark,” said Majid Al Usaimi, National Director, Special Olympics UAE, who is himself confined to a wheelchair.

“We will send a clear message to everyone in the world that human beings have equal opportunities in all communities. By integrating people with disabilities with others in the community, we are showing the best example. It will be a big challenge for all of us and we will succeed.”

“Abu Dhabi is the ideal choice to help bring about true change for millions of people with intellectual disabilities and their families in a strategically important region of the world,” added Dr Shriver. “Selecting the city as host for the Special Olympic World Games in 2019 was an easy choice to make. Both Abu Dhabi and the UAE have made disability a priority, promoting rights for people with intellectual disabilities for more than 20 years, making huge strides in integrating people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace and in schools.

“Special Olympics transforms lives through the joy of sport each and every day, and we believe the Abu Dhabi Games will create lasting impact for the Special Olympics movement, transforming lives and challenging perceptions. We are certain that the city’s exceptional infrastructure, experience in hosting some of the world’s biggest sports events, and the warm welcome from the people of the UAE will make for a memorable event.”

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, had welcomed Dr Shriver to Abu Dhabi to celebrate the UAE capital’s successful bid.

Joining Dr Shriver were sporting stars and Special Olympics International Board Members, including Michelle Kwan, a former ice-skater; Sam Perkins, an NBA legend and 1984 Olympics gold medallist; Olympic swimmer Donna De Varona; and celebrated actor Hussain Fahmy.

The Special Olympics World Games are recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and take place every two years and alternate between Summer and Winter Games, a schedule similar to the Olympics and Paralympics.

The participants are adults and children with intellectual disabilities who can range from world-class competitors to average athletes, to those with limited physical ability.

It is an essential rule of Special Olympics competitions that athletes are matched up according to their ability and age.


Special Olympic World Games’ history and future

* The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, in July-August 1968, while the first International Special Olympics Winter Games were staged in February 1977 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

* In 1991, the name was officially changed from International Special Olympics Summer/Winter Games to Special Olympics World Summer/Winter Games.

* The most recent Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in PyeongChang, South Korea, between January and February 2013.

* The last Special Olympics World Summer Games were held in Los Angeles, California, from July-August 2015.

* The next World Winter Games will be the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Graz and Schladming in Austria.

* Austria will hand over the baton to the UAE in March once its event is over.