Celebration of inclusion, determination and Emirati culture permeated throughout the stunning opening event

17 March 2018, Abu Dhabi: Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018 officially began tonight with a spectacular opening ceremony at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

The ceremony was attended by HH Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council; HH Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Bin Zayed Group; HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foun-dation; HH Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Mak-toum, CEO of the Higher Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; HH Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance; HH Sheikha Sheikha al Abdullah al Khalifa al Sabah, President of Kuwait Disability Club; and several ministers.

HH Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nayhan, said: “The opening cere-mony in Abu Dhabi is a sign of where the UAE sits on the international stage in both sporting and humanitarian events. Hosting the Special Olympics World Games in 2019 is a dream that’s come true thanks to the support of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. His Highness sends a message to the athletes and to people of determination that by overcoming their difficulties they are a source of inspiration.”

The spectacle began with a video countdown that built excite-ment ahead of the evening’s entertainment. After the UAE na-tional anthem, the host city video played to the crowds.

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

Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, then made a welcome speech. 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.”

Additional speeches followed by Ayman Abdel Wahab, President & Managing Director, Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa; H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Chair of the Special Olympics UAE Board; and H.E. Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development.

Ayman Abdel Wahab said: “This is a unique edition of Special Olympics, as it sees 850 athletes participating from 19 countries in the region and for the first time 150 athletes from 13 countries outside the region. This was also the first time the Host Town programme has been organized in a regional games. The most important thing for this ninth edition of the regional games is the final step in preparations for the largest humanitarian sports event in the world, which will be hosted for the first time in the region when Abu Dhabi welcomes 7,000 athletes at Special Olympics World Games 2019.”

H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui said: “When the Government of Abu Dhabi began exploring the idea of the UAE hosting the Special Olym-pics Games, we discovered a natural fit between us, as if we were looking at the world through a shared lens. The Special Olympics facilitates will power quite remarkably by providing a platform where all People of Determination have the space to be unlimited and a playing field for each to reach their full potential and purpose. To say no to what derails us from our goals and yes to what leads us in the right direction, that is the ultimate use of will power.”

H.E. Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid, minister of community develop-ment, said: “UAE confirms its commitment to inclusion by hosting the World Games 2019 — the biggest humanitarian sports event in the world. We are committed to developing more programs and initiatives to create a more inclusive world and making sure our national polices are inline with showcasing abilities of all community members regardless of their abilities.”

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.

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 bed-ouin 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.

More than 1,000 athletes from 31 countries have travelled to Abu Dhabi to take part in MENA IX Games, which is the first major sporting event ahead of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

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.

Special Olympics IX MENA Games and Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are a 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.

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About the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi (AD2019)
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, scheduled for March 14-21, 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 World Games will be an unprecedented display of the spirit, joy, courage and skill that are hallmarks of Special Olympics movement. 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. The spectacular opening ceremony on March 14 is expected to attract 45,000 spectators while being viewed by millions worldwide via global broadcast partners ESPN and Abu Dhabi Media.

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the 2019 World Games will be the most unified Special Olympics competition in history, with inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of the event. The Games are the most visible component of a planned series of initiatives by Abu Dhabi and the UAE to expand opportunity for people of determination (with intellectual disabilities), and to promote inclusion and understanding throughout the emirate, nation, and region. Plans for operation of the World Games include leaving a legacy of improved health, education, and inclusion that will benefit the UAE long after the event is over.