MY MENA GAMES MEMORIES
By Liz Beneski
EDITOR’S NOTE; Liz was one of the volunteer writers on the official blog of the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 and will be returning to report live at the World Games. If you want to volunteer to write, photograph or create video content for the official blog click HERE . There are also hundreds of other volunteer roles available
Looking back on the IX MENA Games 2018 in Abu Dhabi, it’s hard to believe that we are now 57 days away from the opening ceremony of World Games. The IX MENA Games opened with grand ceremony on March 17th when over 1,000 athletes from 32 countries, along with their 400+ coaches, paraded into ADNEC with a colorful and memorable spirit of humanity and excitement.
An inspirational welcome
Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy Shriver welcomed the attendees with inspirational words for all: “When I look out at this crowd, I see people of openness, people of forgiveness, people of strength, people of compassion and skill. I don’t see people with disabilities. I see people of determination,” Shriver said.
“Athletes, this is your time to prove that you can go for the gold, that you can lead an inclusion revolution. For the rest of us, there is no option. The only question is what role will you play, how will you join, when will you become a part of this inclusion revolution,” he added.
A shared experience
The inclusion revolution kicked off in enthusiastic style the next day, with competitions across the city at ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club. Competition was spirited; many athletes were winners simply for competing; and most heartwarming of all was the cheerleading and encouragement shouted from the stands and the sidelines - for it was always for the athletes - not just the country or team.
Special Olympics promotes social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences and connects people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. In 2018, unified games were held across basketball, tennis, table tennis, and football.
Organizers have stated that the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the most ‘unified’ Games ever, and promise to offer an inclusive experience for those with and without intellectual disabilities - a message that is perfectly aligned with the Year of Tolerance.
Looking back on the IX MENA Games, it’s difficult to single out any specific achievements, as there were so many. However, one of the most notable was the Healthy Athletes program, during which a total of 913 people with intellectual disabilities, 500 of whom were Special Olympics athletes taking part in the Games, were treated for dental, vision and podiatry-related issues amongst others over the duration of the Games. Over 3,000 screenings were conducted, the most ever during any Games.
The best is yet to come
The friendships, the love of sport, and personal achievements witnessed during the IX MENA 2018 Games were just a taste of what’s to come in 2019. There is no greater way to share humanity than to be a part of the event. Simply by attending and cheering for the athletes, the spectator takes home more than he or she could have imagined. For those inclined to invest even more deeply during the UAE’s Year of Tolerance, the World Games is still actively recruiting volunteers. There is no task, big or small, that would not make a difference in this global event. It truly could be some of the best experiences of one’s life and will definitely be one of the UAE’s proudest achievements.
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world, with 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing more than 170 countries. The largest single event ever held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the first Special Olympics World Games in the Middle East and North Africa, the World Games features 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports in venues throughout Abu Dhabi. Be part of history!
Interested volunteers are asked to sign up at www.volunteers.ae/specialolympics