Special Olympics World Games 2019: Records tumble before it even begins

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The Special Olympics Opening Ceremony takes place on Thursday evening

Special Olympics World Games kicks off tonight, and is already setting records – with 200 nations now in attendance.

Held in the Middle East for the first time, 7,500 athletes will take part in 24 Olympic-style sports over seven days.

Taking place until 21 March in the UAE Year of Tolerance, the largest sports and humanitarian event on the planet in 2019 will be a momentous display of inclusivity, unity, respect, and sporting achievement.

Speaking at the launch press conference yesterday, H.E. Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, said: “The UAE is proud to gather humanity in the land of tolerance, a meeting that transcends the value and stature of international events with noble respect and dedication to people of determination who represent an important segment in the community.

“This successful historical World Games aims at achieving national and international goals and consolidates the values of integration, empowerment and solidarity between community members, nations and countries.

“This is a national humanitarian mission that we have the honor to carry and achieve in Special Olympics. May we all convey the message of humanity to the world and raise the theme of community integration and empowerment for the future.”

A catalyst for positive change, the World Games will welcome thousands of athletes to showcase their bravery, passion and skills as part of a global movement to create a brighter future for people of determination everywhere.

The most unified Games in the 50-year history of Special Olympics, the World Games Abu Dhabi involves people of determination (the UAE’s official terminology for people with disabilities) in every aspect of the event.

From appointing a group of individuals with disabilities known as ‘The Makers’ to be the creative driving force behind the Opening Ceremony performances, to rollout out new and innovative training programs for Special Olympics athletes to become Technical Officials, and employing more than a dozen people with determination, the Local Organizing Committee for the Games has ensured that the staging of the event is as unified as the message it hopes to convey to people across the globe.

More than 2,500 women will fly the flag for their nation, with almost half of them performing in athletics competitions. Saudi Arabia will send female athletes for the first time, with 14 women participating.

The host nation, the UAE, will filed its largest-ever squad of athletes at a World Games, with 320 sportsmen and women participating making it the biggest delegation at the event, closely followed by Special Olympics Bharat and Special Olympics USA.

The World Games in Abu Dhabi will also feature the largest volunteer program to date in the Middle East and North Africa. More than 20,000 people have registered to give their time to the event, demonstrating an unprecedented level of engagement with the principals of inclusion and strengthening the culture of volunteerism.

Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, said: “As we kick-off the World Games, we can celebrate the fact that our movement has made progress in the 50 years since Special Olympics was founded. The difference today is that this is a movement by people of determination for people of determination — and for everyone else.

“Progress for people of determination is progress for all. The next wave of game-changing moments starts here at the World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.”

Maryam Thyab, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, said: “Participating in World Games is life-changing for people of determination — it literally is that big.

“As someone from this region, as a woman, as an athlete, I am so proud to be here and excited for those people from around the world who are taking part for the first time. As we move forward, we are people who are determined to advance inclusion — for us, for everyone.”

The World Games 2019 will also feature a range of non-sports initiatives such as Healthy Athletes, a Special Olympics program that provides free health examinations for each of the athletes competing in Abu Dhabi, an Inclusive Art Exhibition, Play & Live Unified activities, the Stand Up for Inclusion concert – part of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Festival, and the Global Youth Leadership Summit, which officially commences today.

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