His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the start of Special Olympics World Games 2019 at a spectacular Opening Ceremony at Zayed Sports City on Wednesday.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces officially welcomed more than 7,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches, representing 200 nations, for seven days of incredible Olympic-style sports and a celebration of the human spirit.
A crowd of thousands, including people of determination, heads of state, dignitaries, VIPs, celebrities, members of the community, families and fans packed into the stadium to watch an incredible live show that weaved together the heritage of the Emirates, the spirit of the Special Olympics, the goals of the Abu Dhabi World Games and the vision of the UAE.
Some of the biggest names in music delivered a thrilling rendition of the official World Games anthem ‘Right Where I’m Supposed To Be’ for the very first time.
A number of widely acclaimed music stars and producers, including Greg Wells, a producer and Grammy Award-winner for ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack, Ryan Tedder, lead singer of chart-topping boy band OneRepublic, and Quincy Jones, honorary executive producer and 28-time Grammy Award-winner, came together to create the official song.
It was performed by global superstar Avril Lavigne, whose song ‘Fly’ was the official anthem for the 2015 World Games, and Luis Fonsi, singer of global smash-hit single ‘Despacito’, Emirati singer and Good Will Ambassador at Large, HE Hussain Al Jassmi, Syrian superstar Assala Nasri, and star of Egypt and the Arab world, Tamer Hosny.
People of determination played a leading role in the Opening Ceremony. They are the ‘Makers’ who worked hand-in-hand with an international team of specialists and performers to make their vision a reality to mark the beginning of the biggest sports and humanitarian event on the planet this year.
The ‘Makers’ shaped the performances to encapsulate the spirit of the Olympic dream that is shared by each of the athletes. They showed that people of determination have a powerful voice and are the greatest leaders, teachers and champions for inclusion.
With the voices of hundreds of children still echoing around the stadium, thousands of Special Olympics athletes entered the arena.
In a moment of incredible pride, joy and excitement, teams of athletes from the competing countries paraded into Zayed Sports City to a stirring and empowering chorus of cheers and claps from the crowd.
More than 1,000 VIPs representing Special Olympics, the World Games and the UAE also joined the athletes in an amazing display of inclusivity and unity while the British DJ Paul Oakenfold electrified the stadium and entertained athletes as they walked and danced into the arena.
The athletes and spectators stood to attention to respectfully observe the raising of the UAE’s flag. A proud moment for every Emirati, expatriate resident, and the scores of people who have worked tirelessly to make the World Games a reality, the UAE’s national anthem was then played to rapturous applause.
Next, thousands of arms were raised to the sky revealing a beautiful collage of LED World Games wristbands.
The stage was then set for an address by Dr Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, who delivered a rousing, heartfelt and inspirational message to the UAE and the world.
Dr Shriver’s speech was followed by a message of unity from the UAE Special Olympics community, including athletes and members of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC).
Spectators turned to view a short film dedicated to the memory of the Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
The World Games Abu Dhabi is a fitting tribute to the remarkable achievements of Shriver, who passed away 10 years ago. This year also marks five decades since the Games were officially established.
After paying homage to the roots and history of the Special Olympics, it was time to celebrate the latest addition to the legacy of the global sports and humanitarian movement with the arrival of the Flame of Hope.
Carried by athletes from all seven continents and officers from the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, the torch circled the stadium as a festival of Emirati cultural performances, traditions and dances were played out on center stage.
The crowd watched displays of UAE traditions, such as the sharing of gahwa coffee, as the torch was passed from runner to runner, each igniting their own symbolic flame.
The runners then gathered around a cauldron to light the Special Olympics flame that will burn for the duration of the World Games.
The final curtain was then brought down on a spectacular event that signaled the beginning of seven days of incredible sport, human endeavor and unity.
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.
WWE chief Stephanie McMahon has paid tribute to the athletes of the Special Olympics and hailed the partnership between the two organisations.
Speaking from Abu Dhabi the Chief Brand Officer spoke of her own involvement in the Games and the inspiration they bring to her and the other WWE superstars.
“Our partnership with Special Olympics goes back decades,” she said. “I was actually in high school the first time I volunteered at the World Games so to be here now as the Chief Brand Officer of WWE and a mother of three daughters, to be part of such an important cultural and humanitarian effort that is all about bringing people together and celebrating what connects us, the inclusion, love, passion, work ethic and respect, that everyone has for one another and what everyone involved in these Games feels, it’s a privilege to be part of.”
Stephanie also spoke of the time WWE broke new ground in Abu Dhabi by holding a women’s match, a first for the region, and the lessons that can be learned from those taking part this week.
“It’s incredibly important for me personally, for the WWE, and for the world, and all cultures to be part of something that is about inclusiveness and bringing one another together and celebrate what we have in common.” she said. “For Special Olympics to be taking place in Abu Dhabi where we held the first women’s match in the region, and on that night the audience started chanting ‘this is hope’, and now for the first time ever at the Special Olympics World Games there are females athletes represented from every delegation. It is powerful.
“I am so inspired by the athletes. I had the opportunity to be there for the Torch Run as it came to the Louvre and had chance to talk to a couple of the athletes afterwards, and what they had to say, and the pure joy in their hearts is incredible. I asked an athlete, Ryan from New Zealand, if he were to speak to a group of WWE superstars what would he say. He said he would tell them ‘hard work, believe in yourself, and never give up’. I think those words, and that notion it true for all of us, and is exactly what Special Olympics is all about.”