The UAE Paralympic sport community is in a state of shock following the death of Emirati Paralympian Abdullah Hayayei during a training session at an official venue of the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships on Tuesday, where he was preparing for the competition.
Majid Al Usaimi, the vice president of the UAE National Paralympic Committee (NPC), confirmed in a press conference at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Wednesday, that Hayayei’s death involved the collapse of a metal throwing cage on his head.
The incident was witnessed by his team-mates, team officials, and a number of staff from the London 2017 organising committee, according to Craig Spence, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) media and communications director.
Both IPC and London 2017 organising committee officials were unable to reveal any details of the incident due to a current police investigation in the matter, but Al Usaimi had already told UAE media on Tuesday about the collapsed throwing cage and when asked on Wednesday if that were the case, Ed Warner, the London 2017 organising committee co-chair said it was a “fair assumption”.
“The incident took place at 17:00 hours and as soon as it happened, an onsite member of the competition team emergency services, called emergency services and the first ambulance was onsite before that call had even finished. Two onsite London 2017 physios at the venue immediately attended the incident to offer what help they could. Police and the London ambulance were soon on the scene. Sadly at 17:20, the athlete was pronounced dead at the scene. As is the procedure in cases of a sudden death, a police investigation is ongoing with the support of the Health and Safety Executive,” said Spence on Wednesday.
The Newham Leisure Centre, where the incident took place, is closed until further notice, and organisers of London 2017 considered postponing the World Championships but eventually decided the competition would commence as planned on Friday July 14.
The UAE team, consisting of 16 athletes currently in London, have also decided to stay and compete in the championships, is a way of honouring Hayayei.
“Abdullah Hayayei was one of our great athletes. He had worked very hard and his dream was to become a Paralympic medalist at the Tokyo 2020 Games,” Al Usaimi told Sport360.
“He was part of the delegation for the Rio Games. He was a very kind person and was always spreading the positive energy with his friends. It’s a big loss for everyone and the UAE and our condolences goes to his family.
“Of course it was a shock and it was really really bad to hear the news. We had a meeting with the athletes and they want to give something in return for him because he gave his life to his country. The athletes have promised to give their best performance for Abdullah their friend. It’s not easy for anyone but we need to keep going.
“I knew him for a long time and travelled with him to a lot championships. He was one of those athletes who always responded well and was very positive with everyone and his friends.”
Al Usaimi told reporters at the press conference in London: “He was ambitious, he dreamed to raise his country’s flag and achieve medals for his country and for his family. As a father of five kids, he had a lot of dreams within the para sports movement.”
Hayayei, 36, is a father of five children. He competed in the F34 class, this is for athletes with a coordination impairment. Due to the nature of their impairment, most F34 athletes are wheelchair users, as a result when competing in throwing events they use a special chair which is secured to the throwing circle.
London 2017 was to be his second world championships. Two years ago in Doha, he competed in the discus where he placed fifth and eighth in the shot put.
Last September he made his Paralympic debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games finishing sixth in javelin and seventh in shot put. Here in London he was set to compete in three events, starting with the shot put on Sunday, followed by discus on Wednesday and javelin on the final Sunday of the competition.
During Friday’s London 2017 opening ceremony, a moment of silence will be observed in the stadium to honour Hayayei’s passing.