Special Olympics World Games – A Legacy of Inclusion
The Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi ran from March 14 – March 21, 2019. 7,500 athletes from more than 190 countries competed across 24 Olympic-style sports at the event, which attracted more than 20,000 volunteers and an estimated half a million spectators. It was the largest humanitarian and sporting event of 2019 and the first Special Olympics World Games ever held in the Middle East and North Africa.
The World Games in Abu Dhabi was the most unified Games in the 50-year history of the Special Olympics movement. More sports than ever before were played by “unified teams” which comprise athletes with intellectual disabilities and unified partners. These games also set new records in terms of nations represented and participation by female athletes, which reached nearly 40%.
In the lead-up to the World Games, the UAE Embassy partnered with Special Olympics to host community celebrations in Chicago and Washington, DC. In September 2018, UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba met with athletes at the Team USA training camp in Delaware, where UAE diplomats later hosted a cultural immersion event for the athletes.
Through sports, Special Olympics brings fulfillment and joy to athletes’ lives and expands society’s understanding of human talents and potential. The UAE shares Special Olympics’ mission of promoting inclusion and respect for those with intellectual disabilities – officially called People of Determination in the UAE.
In addition to providing a venue for People of Determination to compete in sports, the Special Olympics offered competitors free health screenings, including dental and vision, through the Healthy Athletes Program. During the games, the UAE announced that it would institute the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® program in every public school in the country. The UAE is the first country in the world to make this commitment at a national level.