Football legend Maradona pledged to launch a sports championship for autistic children in Dubai on Wednesday. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Football legend Maradona pledged to launch a sports championship for autistic children in Dubai yesterday.

“Sports are part of people’s day-to-day life and children with autism should not be deprived of this right,” said ambassador for the Dubai Sport Council Diego Maradona during a press conference.

The former Argentinean World Cup winner called on governments all over the world to provide autistic children with all the facilities needed to help them live a healthy, social and active life.

“I also plan on launching a sports championship just for autistic children. In fact, I promise that I will take the needed steps to do so and I will start on working on it in the near future.”

Maradona made the announcement during the conference that aimed to raise awareness about children with autism.

“This is not my usual area of expertise but as a father I did not hesitate to attend this conference. Those children need a lot of help not only from people in the special needs field. People in all fields should raise awareness about the issue.”

The conference was organised by the Autism Trust Foundation (ATF), which announced that it will reveal a 1,000 square metre billboard featuring 700 paintings by autistic children from around the world on Shaikh Zayed Road in April.

The billboard, which includes paintings by youngsters from 20 countries, aims to raise awareness about autistic children by showing the public their capabilities through artwork, said Fahd Bin Al Shaikh, Deputy Chairman of ATF.

Al Shaikh also revealed that 20 winners (one from each country) will then be invited along with their parents on an all-expense paid trip to Dubai a week before the award ceremony. Their paintings will also be showcased at Mirdif City Centre.

“We want to raise awareness among the public, especially among the parents of children who have autism, to show them that their children are capable and should be encouraged instead of being shunned by society.”

Colonel Dr Jasim K. Mirza, Director of the General Department of Community Services at Dubai Police, said that a big contributor to the lack of statistics in the UAE about children with autism is parents not coming out with the truth about their children.

“In Dubai Police we have statistics about how many addicts we have in the country and the number of deaths. But where are the statistics about children with autism in the country? More awareness is needed on this issue.”

Dr Mirza hoped that the project will raise the awareness needed about children with autism.