On the verge of the IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi World interviews H.E. Mohamad Abdulla Al Junaibi, Chairman of The Higher Committee of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
What does it mean for Abu Dhabi to not only be host of Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018, but also to be awarded Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, the first nation to host both such events back-to-back and the first in the region to host the World Games?
Hosting the Special Olympics is an incredible opportunity for us as a nation to present the largest sporting and humanitarian event of 2019. Awarding Abu Dhabi the bid to host the World Games for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa region is a reflection of our leadership’s commitment to inclusion and the empowerment of people of determination.
Our bid journey began over 20 months ago, but the UAE’s journey to include people of all abilities and disabilities was shaped and led by our Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He believed that the development of our nation could not be complete or successful without the inclusion of people from all walks of life and that it is our diversity that has made us a strong country. The Games is an opportunity for us to showcase to the world our values of openness, hospitality and tolerance, and will also serve as a platform to inspire and instigate even more positive change for people with disabilities. We have a duty and responsibility as the first nation in the MENA region to host the World Games to leave a legacy for People of Determination, and to use our Games as a platform for knowledge-sharing, whether it is best-practice policies and programs or excellence in mega-event management and execution. For more than 20 years, we have put social inclusion at the forefront of our national priorities, and we continue to develop policies aimed at improving the quality of life of people with disabilities.
Last year, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched a national strategy to empower people with disabilities. As part of the strategy, he called for people with disabilities to be called ‘people of determination’.
Speaking at the time, Sheikh Mohammed said: “Disability is in fact the inability to make progress and achievements. The achievements that People of Determination have made in various spheres over the past years are proof that determination and strong will can do the impossible and encourage people to counter challenges and difficult circumstances while firmly achieving their goals.”
This just goes to show that the UAE leadership is providing comprehensive support for people of determination.
Hosting the Games will enable us to foster greater community and regional engagement and generate the public attention we need to invest in the cause, expand our reach and to create wider understanding and awareness of people living with intellectual disabilities.
What are the key strategic aims surrounding the hosting of these two landmark events?
Ultimately, our aim is to change perceptions of people with intellectual disabilities. We want to empower people of determination and showcase their achievements. Through sports, Special Olympics offers People of Determination the chance to achieve joy and success.
In order to create long-term change at a grassroots level, we are working on several initiatives that engage the government and leaders across the UAE in order to ensure that a legacy is left for people of determination long after the Games are over.
With regards to People of Determination, what do you hope will be the long-term legacy, both locally and globally, that results from hosting the Special Olympics here in the UAE?
There was firm backing from His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan because he realized the power of these Games, and the change it could create for People with Determination. As such, the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi became a key stakeholder in the bid for the Games. Having strong government support from the host nation for a World Games is critical to not only the success of the Games, but their legacy as well, which is why we engaged a network of Federal and local government entities when we developed our bid
As part of our bid, we committed to leveraging inclusive language and values to spread the message of inclusion and integration across the region. As part of our commitment, the Local Organizing Committee of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 has its own team that is responsible for our ‘Legacy Program’. The Legacy Program will ensure that we create long-term change across the region.
As part of the Legacy Program, we are currently working with Nielsen on a perceptions survey, which aims to better understand the journey for a person with intellectual disabilities from birth to diagnosis to adulthood. The objectives of the research include identifying gaps and opportunities in policies that would enable people with intellectual disabilities to become productive members of society, benchmarking policies to enable integration and inclusion across schooling, social assistance, employment, etc. and understanding current governance framework for intellectual disabilities and exploring the best proactive alternatives and solutions. We hope to instigate change in countries across the Middle East by demonstrating the value of social inclusion and providing a winning model led by the UAE.
As well as the perceptions survey, we will also be creating a public art project to celebrate the value of inclusion and to raise awareness of people with intellectual disabilities. We hope to promote inclusion through pairing a person with intellectual disabilities with an artist in order to create a public art piece. The art pieces will be displayed in public spaces inAbu Dhabi and we are currently working with Sheikha Salma Foundation, the Department of Culture and Tourism and Abu Dhabi Art on this.
In order to help spread our values of inclusion and tolerance, we are working with several ambassadors to spread our message far and wide. We are also working with organizations such as the Ministry of Community Development, Sedra and the National Media Council to promote a healthy lifestyle, encourage unified activities and to inspire students.
Creating change through education will play a big role in the Legacy Program. We are currently working with education organizations to incorporate content on disabilities, inclusion and Special Olympics into school curriculums. We hope to eventually incorporate the values of Special Olympics into the school curriculum of every single public and private school in the country.
Another part of the Legacy Program is the Healthy Community program which would be delivered through SO UAE. One of our main long-term objectives of the Games is to improve the healthcare on offer for people with intellectual disabilities in the UAE. In order to do this, we are working on increasing access to healthcare services, wellness opportunities and health education for athletes, families and the general public. We have partnered with the Golisano Foundation on the program and are setting up partnerships with several other healthcare provides, sports centers and other organizations to extend the Healthy Community concept across the UAE.
As a result of our work so far, numerous changes in policies and procedures are being implemented in organizations across the UAE. Our official airline sponsor, Etihad, announced recently that it would be giving all of its staff five days of paid leave to volunteer at the Games – this shows their level of commitment to creating long-term change and improving the lives of those with intellectual disabilities. The Games will serve as a platform to increase understanding, tolerance and inclusion throughout the nation and region.
What message about the UAE and Abu Dhabi do you believe the hosting of the Special Olympics will send to the world?
There’s no better or more profound location than Abu Dhabi to invite the world to come together in celebration of sport, in celebration of people of all kinds, and to demonstrate to the world that the lines of division can be erased.
The UAE constitution guarantees the right for persons with disabilities to live in dignity as equal citizens, including the right to work and participate in all aspects of life. Issued in 2006 by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE President, the Federal Law No. (29) of 2006 was the first law in the UAE to protect the rights of People with Determination. In this light, both Abu Dhabi and UAE have made disability a priority and see the Games as a way to continue to reinforce its commitment to create inclusion and integration. Abu Dhabi has been at the forefront in the Middle East of the protection and promotion of rights for people with intellectual disabilities for more than 20 years and is making huge strides in integrating people with intellectual disabilities into society, especially in schools and the workplace.
The UAE is home to over 150 nationalities from different faiths, so embracing diversity is not new to the nation. Throughout the bid process, the Abu Dhabi Bid Committee assured the Special Olympics organization that everyone will be welcome to participate in the Games. People from all over the world will come together at the Games for a common noble purpose of promoting and empowering people with intellectual disabilities.