Rain didn’t dampen the spirits as football legends Didier Drogba and Cafu played alongside Special Olympic athletes in a unified match on the opening day of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
The Unified Sports Clinic, part of the Special Olympics Unified Sports Experiences, was held at Zayed Sports City where former Chelsea and Marseille striker Drogba and World Cup winner Cafu joined the athletes for a fun 30-minute game in front of large and vibrant crowd.
Both stars interacted with fans and posed for pictures with the athletes as well as wowing the crowd by showing off their skills with a keepy-up challenge.
WWE superstar Finn Balor also made a surprise appearance as well as three-time Olympian short-track speed skater Apolo Ohno and American sabre fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Speaking on the importance for inclusion, Drogba said: “Since I retired from football, this is the first time that l have played here in the UAE and it felt really good.
“I’m inspired by joining and meeting the Special Olympic athletes. This is a life lesson for me and they have chosen us to be in their team.
“You can be as talented as you want but alone you will never achieve anything. Sports is so powerful for bringing people together. I want to say to everyone that we should all support People of Determination today and promote togetherness and tolerance.
“I want to encourage people to join the Special Olympics movement and promote inclusion.”
Throughout the World Games, there will be other international stars supporting the Special Olympic athletes. Among those are NFL stars Jamaal Charles, now retired, and Joe Haden, who through his foundation, 1 Strong All Great, will be sharing their expertise by leading an American football clinic on 16 and 17 March from 9am-12pm at Zayed Sports City. The clinics are in partnership with the Emirates American Football League.
During the Unified Sports Experiences, all of the Special Olympic athletes and celebrities will be wearing T-shirts designed by school children in the UAE. Seven eye-catching designs were selected after more than 500 entries were received.
The Unified Sports Experiences provide an opportunity for honored guests, VIPs and sponsors to participate alongside Special Olympic athletes. It aims to promote inclusion and break down barriers by bringing together people with and without intellectual disabilities and allowing them to play on teams alongside each other.