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Special Olympics World Games open in Abu Dhabi
Thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities from more than 190 nations have taken part in the opening ceremony of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Featuring performances from global superstars including Avril Lavigne the climax of last evening’s ceremony was the lighting of the Abu Dhabi World Games’ cauldron, completing the Flame of Hope torch run which began in Athens and has touched each Emirate across the UAE.
As tens of thousands of spectators looked on, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, declared the Games officially open, after which fireworks filled the sky at the climax of the event.
The first Games to be held in the Middle East, the hosts are aiming to challenge misconceptions, overcome prejudice and promote inclusion about the potential of those with intellectual disabilities as well as promoting the region’s event hosting capabilities.
Notably, the opening ceremony included a group of 25 Israeli athletes, the largest ever to represent Israel in an Arab country.
Israel was to march between Iran and Iraq but local security officials moved the team to march before Jamaica so that “the Israelis would feel safer,” according to media reports.
With just over half of the athletes at the World Games being women, gender milestones at the event are seeing Saudi Arabia bringing female competitors to the Games for the first time while Mauritiania has sent its first female athlete outside of the country to compete in a sporting event.
Running from 14th to 21st March at venues in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – including the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, Al Forsan Resort, Yas Marina Circuit, Zayed Sports City and Dubai’s Hamdan Sports Complex - the Games feature 7,500 athletes.
The UAE’s hosting of the Games is seen as a way of changing local attitudes to intellectual disabilities.
A recent study carried out by the Special Olympics in eight Middle Eastern countries found that while compassion for those with intellectual disabilities was evident, discomfort often prevents many people from interacting with them.
To counter this, the organisers of the Abu Dhabi World Games have called on the public to compete alongside disabled athletes in sports such as football, volleyball and basketball.
In addition, in a first for the Games, a dedicated team has been set up to create a lasting legacy with the introduction of 31 programs, covering health, education, culture and spreading awareness, aimed at improving the lives of those with disabilities in the UAE and challenge misconceptions and stereotypes.
Image: Last night's Abu Dhabi World Games opening ceremony. Courtesy of Special Olympics.
23rd February 2018 - 30-week refurbishment complete at UAE’s largest stadium
29th September 2016 - Herbalife links with Special Olympics in million dollar fitness collaboration
12th March 2015 - UAE to host 2019 AFC Asian Cup
23rd October 2014 - Papua New Guinea celebrates founder of Special Olympics
5th April 2014 - Special Olympics New Zealand joins UN Sport initiative
2nd December 2013 - Athletes applauded at Special Olympics opening ceremony
24th November 2013 - Countdown to Newcastle hosting of Special Olympics Australia
3rd April 2012 - Al Forsan International Sports Resort hosts growing events portfolio
13th March 2009 - South Asian Cricket relocates to Emirates
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