Abu Dhabi: The Special Olympics New Zealand team became the first full delegation to arrive in the UAE ahead of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi kicking off in less than 10 days.
Touching down at 5.35am on Tuesday, all members of the delegation, including the athletes, coaches, heads of delegation and medical support staff, were given a warm welcome at Abu Dhabi International Airport by Peter Wheeler, CEO of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, the two official Games mascots — Faris and Rabdan — and Etihad Airways staff. A formal welcome was held with Kapa Haka performers singing a welcome song and dancing. Thanking them for their arrival, the New Zealand delegation then responded by performing the Haka back. The Haka is a traditional ceremonial dance in New Zealand.
The New Zealand athletes will be competing in eight sports competitions including athletics, swimming, bocce, equestrian, basketball, bowling, powerlifting and football.
More than 190 other participating nations will start to arrive in Abu Dhabi and Dubai ahead of the Host Town Programme for the World Games, which begins on March 8.
The Special Olympics will see more than 7,500 athletes compete from March 14-21. The athletes will compete in 24 Olympic-style sports in nine venues across Dubai and Abu Dhabi in what will be the largest sports and humanitarian event of the year.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Abdullah Bin Mutlaq Al Gafli, the UAE Ambassador to Indonesia, visited the Jakarta headquarters of the training camp for Indonesian athletes participating in the Games.
Al Gafli was received by Prof. Dr Faisal Abdullah, Board Chair of the Special Olympics Indonesia, along with representatives from the Indonesian Special Olympics team.
During the visit, the Ambassador gave an encouraging speech to the athletes, noting that the UAE is honoured to host the Games.
Dr Abdullah praised the visit and its positive impact on raising the spirits of the players and expressed his gratitude for the great efforts made by the UAE to host the Special Olympics.
The Indonesian Special Olympics team consists of 98 athletes who will compete in 11 sporting categories. The team is scheduled to leave for Abu Dhabi on Friday.