Abu Dhabi: A record 141 athletes from the UAE are taking part in 15 of the 16 disciplines at the Special Olympics IX Mena Games that gets under way at the capital from March 14-23. The event will serve as a test event for Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
Special Olympics IX Mena Games will also witness the participation by a record number of female athletes. While the UAE will see over 429 female athletes and 168 female trainers from 31 countries, the country will field around 60 female athletes at the Special Olympics.
Baring tennis, the UAE women will take part in athletics, swimming, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, gymnastics, power lifting, table tennis, roller skating, handball and volleyball.
“There are a few new sporting disciplines we are taking part in a Para Games for the first time. They are the women’s gymnastics, swimming, roller-skating and football.
“We have in our squad those who have taken part in both the Paralympics and the World Games. As the host, we now have the option to field as many as possible,” said Fatima Ibrahim, coordinator for Special Olympics.
“For those taking part for the first time at this level, it indeed will be an experience which they can take forward to next year’s World Games.
“The preparation has gone well with a two-week camp in Al Ain. The national federations have come forward to provide us with the technical support and their facilities for our use,” she added.
In the seventh edition of the Mena Games in 2010, Damascus saw 305 female players take part and 215 female players attended the eighth edition in Cairo.
Talal Al Hashemi, Abu Dhabi Sports Council director of technical affairs, vowed that UAE will have team for all the 23 events for Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
“We have made arrangements to make sure we have a team participating in all the disciplines in the Special Olympics World Games. Now apart from tennis, we are taking part in all the events. That, in itself, is an achievement,” said Al Hashemi.
Emirati Football Coach and ambassador for Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 Houriya Taheri speaking ahead of the event said: “I learnt about Special Olympics when the Mena team asked me to play in Egypt with players with intellectual disabilities. I went and had no idea what kind of disabilities they had but it was a new and amazing experience.”
Taheri went on to add that Special Olympics serves everyone with an opportunity to understand the importance of getting involved.
“As a developed country, everyone should be behind this. People with intellectual disabilities are achieving so much and they should be recognised and supported. We as women have this beautiful opportunity to play for our country and for ourselves. Despite all the stereotypes and old family traditions, we can still be part of positive change.”