'Special' waves

Pomp and pageantry as Middle East launches Special Summer Games

Sanjay Myers
Sport Reporter
Special Olympics Summer Games
Sanjay Myers In Abu Dhabi

Friday, March 15, 2019

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The first Special Olympics World Games to be staged in the Middle East North Africa was officially opened in front of tens of thousands of spectators, athletes, coaches and officials late yesterday.

Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates' Armed Forces, carried out the symbolic honours near the end of an eye-catching opening ceremony at Zayed Sports City.

He officially welcomed more than 7,500 competitors and approximately 3,000 coaches, representing close to 200 nations, for sporting and non-sporting activities including healthy athletes screening in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ), with a delegation numbering over 90 at the 2019 Summer Games, was among those on parade during the opening ceremony.

The Jamaicans are scheduled to compete in aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, football, roller skating and volleyball.

Jamaica's police officer, Gladstone Sealy, has already played his role in the UAE — as part of the law enforcement torch run group who carried the flame of hope throughout the seven emirates in recent days.

Yesterday, the flame of hope was carried into Zayed Sports City where the cauldron was lit to coincide with the declaration from the Crown Prince. The flame will remain until the closing ceremony on March 21.

Earlier, Special Olympics International Chairman Dr Timothy Shriver, during a passionate address, praised athletes for their role in helping to fight for equality, inclusion and tolerance.

“The athletes are here to say that they are the prophets of tolerance, the prophets of compassion, the prophets of a whole new world… where everybody contributes,” he said.

“You have won the most important race already. Yes, you will compete, and yes, you will prove yourselves, and yes, you will take home medals. But please know that by your open hearts and freedom you have already changed the tide of history, and by your competitive spirit you have already changed the face of sport. By marshalling the energy of love and sharing with us all you have already won the gold medals,” Shriver added.

Dr Shriver's speech was immediately followed by messages of unity from the Special Olympics UAE community.

A brief film dedicated to the memory of his late mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics founder, was also televised on huge screens around the venue.

Kennedy Shriver was the force behind the first Special Olympics Games in 1968 in Chicago, United States.

The opening ceremony, which blended the essence of the Special Olympics movement with the unique heritage and vision of the hosts UAE, also offered entertainment through music and dance.

A highlight was the live performance of the official World Games anthem Right Where I'm Supposed To Be by international stars Avril Lavigne and Luis Fonsi alongside Hussain Al Jassmi, Assala Nasri and Tamer Hosny. yesterday's opening ceremony provided the first public performance of the track.

Special Olympics' aim is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The movement gives them the opportunity to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.


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