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Special Olympics to be held across 7 venues in Abu Dhabi

Mena event next year being seen as a ‘trial run’ for 2019 Games

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Seven venues have been shortlisted across Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Summer Games, to be held from March 14 to 21, 2019.

Yas Marina Circuit will host cycling, long distance running, 10k, half-marathon and triathlon; the Zayed Sports City will host football, tennis, bowling and gymnastics while the water sports will be held in the turquoise waters of the corniche; New York University Abu Dhabi will host athletics along with Saadiyat, which will have a few track and field and powerlifting events.

Adnec will also be hosting six indoor events and, for golf, Yas links is being considered as an option.

“I think, number one, you always look at the great facilities and they have that here. If you look at the proximity, all the venues are close,” said Peter Wheeler, CEO of Special Olympics Abu Dhabi 2019, adding that the most important thing for the organisers was people participation other than the hospitality, commitment and authenticity towards the Special Olympics.

“We could not have found a city or an emirate or country that is perfectly in line with the mission and value of the Special Olympics,” said Wheeler. “We went about choosing the venues based on our needs, as we would be using multiple fields. Really, the resources and venues are here but it’s just building them out to accommodate the specific needs for the specific sports,” said Wheeler, whose immediate focus is on the Special Olympic Games Mena region to be held next year. The event, which is in it’s ninth edition, will be a prefect preparatory event ahead of the Special Olympics.

Over 1,500 athletes from 33 nations will be competing in 16 sports. A successful completion of the event would give Abu Dhabi a clear picture on which aspect they would need to improve on in the run-up to the Special Olympics.

“It’s a smaller event but it’s the most robust event that has ever been staged before a World Games. No other local organising committee has run an intensive test event leading up to the Games. It will certainly test our transportation, IT and, accommodation. Then we can put our best foot forward for the Games in 2019,” said Wheeler who felt that an event like Special Olympics would put UAE on the global map.

“The World Games gives Abu Dhabi the opportunity to highlight their organisational skills and achievements of their athletes. It will raise its profile. To be in a city like Abu Dhabi and also to have access to world-class venues like Yas Marina Circuit speaks volumes to the mission of the Games,” said Wheeler.

“UAE will have a big team and, right now, they are laying out a plan to selecting the athletes and training them. For some sports, the UAE will start new initiative for the athletes and that’s exciting. No matter what we do here, the UAE local organising committee are committed to sustainability so, whatever they do now, it’s a step to a broader and much more expansive programme for people in the country.”

Wheeler also asserted that the Special Olympics would be a game-changer for the Asian continent, which has struggled to keep pace with other continents. “The big thing that these events do is that it brings people without disability together with people who are disabled. It really educates people that we’re more alike than different, and breaks down the stereotypes and changes behaviour and attitudes. That’s what we’re looking for from these Games.”