Emirati performers were put into the global sporting spotlight as the UAE capital officially began the countdown for the Special Olympics World Games in March Image Credit: Organiser

Abu Dhabi / Dubai: The largest sporting and humanitarian event kicks off tomorrow in Abu Dhabi, the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, to be held from March 14 to 21.

Gulf News brings you a guide on all you need to know about the event:

About Special Olympics: First time in the Middle East

Special Olympics is a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of their ability or disability.

The Special Olympics takes place every two years and alternates between summer and winter.

The last edition of the Games was held in Austria during the winter (2017). It is the first time that the Special Olympics is being held in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Irelands athlets team in the ADNEC for the Special Olympics World Games 2019 Image Credit: Kutty/Gulf News

About Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019

It will be one of the most unified world games as people with intellectual disabilities will be involved in all facets of the Games — ensuring every spectator, guest and fan benefits from a more inclusive, interactive experience.

There are 7,500 athletes from 190 countries taking part at the Games this year.

7,500

Number of athletes taking part in the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi

A staggering 6,000 families will be at the Games cheering for their special athlete in Abu Dhabi.

The athletes will be cheered by over 3,000 coaches are on board training the special athletes for their big day.

190

Number of countries represented

Moreover, 1,500 officials will be at work ensuring the week-long event runs as smoothly as possible.

Athletes Daniel and Yassir light and carry the torch at the closing ceremony of the Host Town Program in Dubai preceding the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 at Global Village on 10th March, 2019 Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

More than just a sport this year

The idea of the sporting event has always been to create a unified world of inclusion. According to the event's local organising committee, it is focussed on developing a strong and long-lasting legacy for the Games that promotes inclusion beyond 2019.

The UAE has made inclusivity a priority within National Vision 2021.

The term "people of determination" was introduced in 2017 by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as part of a new National Strategy for Empowering People with Disabilities.

A wide range of initiatives to support people of determination have been implemented in the UAE at a local and federal level.

(From bottom left) Maria B Gonzalez, Cuban athletes Yoandy Beltran Delgado and Yurisnel Rojas Reynaldo pose with the rest of the Cuban team at the closing ceremony of the Host Town Program in Dubai preceding the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 at Global Villag Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

24 sporting events at the Games

There are 24 sporting events to be played out at the Games:

  • Athletics
  • Beach volleyball
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Judo
  • Powerlifting
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Badminton
  • Bocce
  • Equestrian
  • Gymnastics – artistic
  • Gymnastics –rhythmic
  • Kayaking
  • Roller skating
  • Table tennis
  • Triathlon
  • Basketball
  • Bowling
  • Football / soccer
  • Open-water swimming
  • Handball
  • Sailing
  • Volleyball

Where will the competitions be held?

In Abu Dhabi, it is being held in the following venues:

  1. ADNEC
  2. Zayed Sports City
  3. Yas Marina Circuit
  4. Abu Dhabi Yacht and Sailing Club
  5. Khalifa International Bowling Centre
  6. Yas Links Abu Dhabi Golf Club
  7. Al Forsan Resort
  8. Corniche Beach

In Dubai, it will be held in the following venues:

  • Hamdan Sports Complex
  • Dubai Police Club Stadium
Athletes participate in a parade during the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018 Image Credit: WAM

Opening Night 

In a bid to further celebrate inclusion, for the first time in the history of a Special Olympics, people of determination have been included to play a key part in the opening act ceremony. ‘The Makers’ as they are referred to as they are literally making the show and are part of the conceptualisation of the entire event.

'The makers' of the opening act of the Special Olympics Image Credit: SUPPLIED

But the opening act will not just be performances by People of Determination, but several international celebrities too who are descending for the event. While some of them are performing on stage, other are coming to show their support and love for an inclusive society. Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne is flying down to Abu Dhabi and will be singing his piece ‘Fly’.

Avril Lavigne Image Credit: The New York Times

Veteran DJ Paul Oakenfold, with more than 100 remixes to his credit, is showing his support for the special community.

Other stars like Tamer Hosny, Assala Nasri, Hussain Al Jasmi, Nicole Scherzinger, and Erika Ender are also making their way for the ceremony.

Tamer Hosny, Egyptian Star singer performing during the Beats on the Beach at Abu Dhabi corniche Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The opening ceremony will also see the lighting of the cauldron that will officially mark the opening of the World Games when ‘the Flame of Hope’ completes its final journey into the iconic Zayed Sports City stadium.

Volunteers

Over 20,000 volunteers will be on duty for the week-long international sporting competition. The volunteers will include people with and without intellectual disabilities. They will work together conducting and co-ordinating the event. The volunteers are arriving from all over the world.

20,000

Number of volunteers be on duty for the week-long international sporting competition.

The Volunteer Leaders Program will be responsible for teh oversight and operations of significant functions.

Around 3,000 volunteers who supported teh IX MENA Games in Abu Dhabi 2018 will also help at the Special Games.

New Zealand are first Special Olympics team to arrive in UAE Image Credit: Supplied

Including a sense of community

The last three days before the opening ceremony of the World Games, the UAE has been hosting the delegations of Special athletes and their families in a series of fun, friendly and inclusive cultural events. 

Bangladesh athlets team in the ADNEC for the Special Olympics World Games 2019 Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

History of the Games

In 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of former American President John F. Kennedy founded Special Olympics. She had a sister with intellectual disability and wanted to see change in the society. She saw the power of sport and how it offered as a catalyst to change. The World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will mark the culmination of 50th anniversary celebrations, and the beginning of the next fifty years of the inclusion movement.

How many athletes are taking part in the Special Olympics world-wide?

There are 4.9 million athletes with intellectual disabilities involved in Special Olympics worldwide. 1.2 million people take part in Special Olympics Unified Sports worldwide.

Special Olympics venues Image Credit: Gulf News