Special Olympics regional games open in Abu Dhabi

By Angel Chan

ABU DHABI 18 March 2018: The Special Olympics IX Mena Games Abu Dhabi 2018 began last night with a spectacular opening ceremony at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, attended the ceremony and described the games as “a global event that buttresses the UAE’s prestigious standing in  sports and humanitarian domains”.

The spectacle began with a video countdown that built excitement ahead of the evening’s entertainment. After the UAE national anthem, the host city video played to the crowds, said Wam.

More than 1,000 Special Olympics athletes from 31 countries entered the arena to huge cheers and standing ovation, as they were led out by their representatives from the Adopt a Nation initiative and marched alongside members of the higher committee and celebrities including actor Hussein Fahmy, Olympians Michelle Kwan and Ibtihaj Mohammad and the first Saudi women to conquer Mount Everest, Raha Moharrak.

Thousands of people attended the opening ceremony onsite, with millions following it live on Abu Dhabi Sports Channel, watching how the event truly resonates with the values of tolerance, solidarity and peaceful coexistence deeply cherished by the UAE leadership.

The Special Olympics flag then entered Adnec and symbolic oaths were declared by representatives for both the athletes and coaches. It was then declared that Special Olympics IX Mena Games Abu Dhabi 2018 was officially open.

Flame of Hope

A video then played to the audience and viewers watching at home, which showcased the torch relay that took place last week. The ‘Flame of Hope’ was shown on its journey from a bedouin camp in the desert to several of the emirate’s landmark sites, including Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace and Louvre Abu Dhabi.

As the video ended, the ‘Flame of Hope’ then entered Adnec and was used to light the Special Olympics cauldron, which will burn for the entirety of the Games.

A final musical performance by Emirati singer Hamad Al Ameri brought the opening ceremony to a close.

Eight Venues

Athletes will take part in 16 different sports that will be hosted in eight different venues including Adnec, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club. Entry across all the sites is open to the public.

Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, made a welcome speech, where he said, “We are here not just as athletes and fans, but as brothers and sisters joined together in a sacred belief a belief that sport is the great playground of meeting and learning to play together, a belief that we must make the world safe for the beauty of every human-being to shine, a belief that giving and receiving is the energy of love, a belief that if we see with the eyes of love, we will see the world as it truly can be: full of justice and joy.”

Special Olympics IX Mena Games and Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are part of the UAE’s National Vision 2021 that highlights full integration of people of determination into everyday society. Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the most ‘unified’ games in history and promise to offer an inclusive experience for those with and without intellectual disabilities.