Special Olympics World Games kick off in Abu Dhabi


ABU DHABI — The Special Olympics World Games kicked off at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, on Thursday evening. It is the first time that the Special Olympics is being held in the Middle East and North Africa region in its 50-year history.

Saudi athletes were among 7,500 athletes from over 190 countries that participated in the traditional opening ceremony, flying their country’s flags. The Saudi teams, which feature women athletes for the first time since the Kingdom started participating in the Games in 1994, are taking part in an array of sport events, including basketball, swimming, table tennis and bowling.

Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the board of directors of the General Authority of Sports and president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, visited on Thursday the Saudi national teams participating in the Special Olympics and reassured their preparedness for the competition.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, declared the Abu Dhabi World Games officially open. Once the tributes were over and the oaths were read, the torches made their way down into the stadium and Sheikh Mohammed took to the microphone to announce the official start of the Games.

“We welcome you to the house of Zayed, your second country. And with all pride we are honored to host the Special Olympic World Games and we are proud to have all the Special Olympic athletes here from around the world. Today with your presence and your efforts we send a message that nothing is impossible when you are determined.”

The journey of the flame of hope ended as it lit the cauldron in Zayed Sports City. Starting from Athens, ‘the Flame of Hope’ has been carried by law enforcement officials and athletes across every emirate in the UAE. Athletes took the oath of the Special Olympic Games, as the flag of the Games was raised.

A staggering 6,000 families will be at the 11-day sporting extravaganza cheering for their special athlete, with over 3,000 coaches are on board training the special athletes for their big day.

Moreover, 1,500 officials are at work ensuring the week-long event runs as smoothly as possible. Over 20,000 volunteers, including people with and without intellectual disabilities, from all over the world have swung into duty for the sporting competition. — SG