SPORT FOR HUMANITY

Abu Dhabi 2019 | SPORTS | FOCUS: SPECIAL OLYMPICS 2019

Abu Dhabi's sporting vision comes to life as the Emirate readies itself for hosting the Special Olympics World Games in 2019.

Abu Dhabi's sporting calendar is both rich and varied, from permanent fixtures such as the Etihad Formula 1 Grand Prix that takes place annually at the impressive Yas Marina Circuit, to the HSBC Golf championship, Volvo Ocean Race, and Red Bull Air Race World Series. Visitors and residents have an abundance of diverse sporting events to both participate in and spectate. 2019 will be a year like no other in the Emirate, as it plays host to the Asian Cup and to the Special Olympics World Games. Abu Dhabi's selection as host city for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games is both a symbol of the endemic caring nature of the Emirate and is indicative of the progress that has been made in the development of sport in the Emirate.

The Special Olympics World Games is an international sporting competition for “people of determination," participants with intellectual disabilities. March 14-21 will see 7,000 athletes from 170 nations converging in Abu Dhabi and competing in 24 different events. During the weeklong celebration of sport and its unifying power, the athletes will be joined by 2,500 coaches and delegations, 3,000 honored guests with over 20,000 volunteers playing a crucial role. There has been a marked effort nationally to spread the Olympics' values of tolerance, dignity, empowerment, and friendship at a grassroots level. This is with the hope of fostering greater social inclusion. Furthermore, community engagement initiatives have been rolled out across Abu Dhabi and have been met with considerable enthusiasm. Initiatives include Fans in the Stands, which invites local schools to attend events and show support for the athletes. Also, celebrities and entertainers will be playing a supporting role as Ambassadors while the Unified Sports element pairs people with and without disabilities in the same sports teams.

A compelling element of the games will be an added service of free health screenings for participating athletes from countries where healthcare may be limited. Athletes that have a range of untreated conditions will be given free treatment and receive medical aid, including hearing, eye, and dental treatment. The Healthy Athletes program, which is funded by the host city in collaboration with private sponsors, also seeks to educate athletes on health-related issues.

The Special Olympics international board of directors unanimously voted to award the World Games to Abu Dhabi based on a comprehensive bid proposal. Abu Dhabi benefits from a globally central geographical location, and the Emirates' capital has highly advanced transport and hospitality infrastructure. It is home to a diverse population with many different nationalities living and working in the Emirate. Furthermore, there has been an eagerness to embrace the Olympic message of inclusivity, tolerance, and philanthropy.

The government of Abu Dhabi and the federal government of the UAE have both made sport a priority within the context strategic plans, such as Vision 2021. Significant investments have been made in sports infrastructure; it boasts an array of football stadiums, cricket grounds, equestrian facilities, and sailing clubs as well as internationally recognized golf courses. Sport is viewed as integral to creating a cohesive society while preserving identity. Moreover, staging a global event such as The Special Olympics will have both direct and indirect benefits for Abu Dhabi. Increased awareness generated by the event allows Abu Dhabi to showcase its number of attractions, benefiting both tourism and investment. Major sponsors such as the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Aldar, Etihad Airways, Mubadala, Etisalat, and First Abu Dhabi Bank are already investing in the global exposure of the games. The event will likely serve as a catalyst with regards to sports events, and Abu Dhabi will be keen to build upon the success of the games and attract future events of similar global significance.