Let the Games begin: UAE is all prepared to welcome the world
More than 7,500 athletes from 200 countries competing in 24 categories.
The world has arrived in the Capital. The air is filled with determined optimism and, in a few hours, the ball will be set rolling on the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. The UAE is surely setting a benchmark with this Special Olympics being held in the Middle East for the first time.
On last count, there were more than 7,500 athletes from 200 countries competing in 24 categories, making this the most unified one in the 50-year history of the Special Olympics. Top officials noted that the special athletes were the 'leaders' of the movement to create an inclusive world.
A UAE minister said the country has already taken the lead in making the world inclusive for all.
Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, said His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE's Armed Forces, is the man behind the Special Olympics.
She said that in the next few weeks, the Cabinet would be declaring some 31 new initiatives for the people of determination. Earlier this week, a ministerial retreat - participated in by people of determination, their families, government firms, private sector companies and NGOs - was held for the first time to understand current challenges and the way forward.
"It was held under the name 'Retreat of Determination'. There were eight different categories of topics, including education, health, international awareness, among others. All the challenges were discussed with the people of determination. Following which, 31 initiatives have been approved and will go out from the Cabinet to the world in less than 50 days."
She said the number of countries participating in the event had reached 200 (195 participants and five observers), which highlighted the recognition and confidence the world has shown on the UAE as a host nation and its support for the people of determination.
"We welcome the world to the UAE. This is an astonishing moment for us. Our gratitude goes out to the wise leadership for their support. The people of determination, as we call them in the UAE, are always a success story for all of us to look at with admiration and pride. The UAE strives to integrate people of determination in all levels - in the workforce, education, parks and elsewhere."
"In 2018, there were eight governmental policies, rules and legislations that had been changed and enforced by the Cabinet to support the legacy of Special Olympics and improve the lives of people of determination. In 2019, the Cabinet has met twice. Three different legislations have already been approved, like the UAE Universal Design Code and categorisation of people of determination."
Nothing like UAE's preparations
Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, said the World Games presented a platform for the special athletes to show their talents on the grand stage.
Davis said that during her past visits to the UAE with regards to the Games preparations, she knew it would be an amazing one.
"I have never seen such preparations that have been put in the past couple of years to ensure that this will be the best Games in history. I am sure all of us are in for a big treat over the next two weeks."
The Games, she said, helped create awareness and acceptance among the general public for the special athletes and people of determination.
"We are creating an environment so that the wider public can understand and appreciate the abilities of these athletes. This will help create a more inclusive society. Each of these athletes will send a strong message of courage, ability, acceptance and tolerance. They are teaching the world to build a more inclusive world."
New vision, leadership
Ayman Abdel Wahab, regional president of Special Olympics Mena, said the Games offers a great chance for everyone to understand people of determination and the values of tolerance, inclusiveness and acceptance.
"Abu Dhabi has set the bar. It will be very hard for any country to cross it in the next 50 years. There is lot of work to do and it starts after the closing ceremony. We have to do a lot of work for the sake of the Mena region and the world," he told Bilal Hafeez, who along with other people of determination Christopher Swaminathan and Brendyn Monsorate, is part of the World Games Unified Press Office.
'It goes beyond sports, it's about their right to be heard'
Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, said the Games wasn't just about sports as it would feature several non-sports events like the Happy Athlete Programme and Youth Summits were everyone ?could join.
"Our population is the most underserved in terms of their health needs. Their poor health is blamed on the fact that they have a disability but this isn't true. Through our Happy Athlete Programme, we have a number of well-trained volunteers who are conducting health screenings for our athletes.
"Through our Youth Summits, young people will come together with the people of determination to figure out ways to build a more inclusive society. Then, we can rid ourselves of the stigma. We can overcome any obstacle as long as we work together. It's all the better when we start at a young age."
There are also opportunities to take part in unified sports activities where people with and without intellectual disabilities can participate in sports activities alongside each other in celebration of inclusion.
"This is about their right to have their voice heard and right to excel in every aspect of their lives," she noted.
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