Abu Dhabi: The Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), one of the venues for this week’s Special Olympics World Games, was abuzz on Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s opening ceremony at Zayed Sports City.
With excitement palpable among the athletes, smiles were broad and more importantly emotions among the Players of Determination were at an all time high, when Gulf News caught up with them.
The next 11 days of this sporting extravaganza, which is being held in the Middle East for the first time, will belong solely to them and their world of aspirations and dreams.
Records will be set both on and off the field and many a heart will be won in the wider aim of gaining greater acceptance and understanding for People of Determination
The qualifying rounds for basketball, handball and volleyball events are already underway, and things are heating up as if nothing supersedes success.
Coaches hurling out instructions from the sidelines, teammates yelling at the top of their lungs and each and every point being cheered, makes it much like any other high profile sports event getting underway, but there’s a far deeper meaning here than just winners and losers, as every athlete is already an inspiration, regardless of their result.
UAE volleyball team member Khalid Hamza is not a Player of Determination, but his role in the side is key — to guide the People of Determination.
“We are a total of 12 players; six of whom are determined and six of whom are unified partners,” he said.
“As per the rules, we should have three determined players in a team of six at any one time. I have been with them for just two weeks but the experience has been phenomenal. There is so much to learn from these kids. They are so attentive and always eager to learn, which has surprised me,” added Hamza, who went on to add how privileged he is to be a part of this team and to get an opportunity to be with these inspirational athletes.
“These kids are not different to us and that you will know when you start mingling with them.
“I request everyone to come and see how talented these kids are. Believe me, your perceptions will change,” he said.
Algerian female basketball player Amina Belkachemi also plays a similar role as Hamza in her team and she too echoed similar sentiments.
“Our team is made up of six determined athletes and four unified partners,” she said.
“You should have seen the spirit in the two matches we played. Everyone was so excited and even though we lost, it was as if we had won.
“The happiness that you see in these kids to be on the court was amazing. They feel wanted and that brings a lot of smiles to their faces,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Iraq volleyball team has arrived with a mission to return with nothing less than a medal.
Coach Salim Abdul Hassan was optimistic that the efforts they had put in to training in Baghdad would pay off.
“Most of the boys have the experience of playing in big tournaments and we won silver in a major competition last year,” he said. “There is a lot of support for these kids now and that has helped in their performance, as well.
“Opportunity is all these kids need. If that helping hand is there they can do wonders in their own ways,” he added.