ABU DHABI, 17th March, 2018 (WAM) -- Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018 officially began tonight with a spectacular opening ceremony at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
H.H. Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, attended the launching ceremony at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, and described the Games as "a global event that buttresses the UAE's prestigious standing in the sports and humanitarian domains."
"The opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi is a sign of where the UAE sits on the international stage in both sporting and humanitarian events. Hosting the Special Olympics World Games in 2019 is a dream that’s come true thanks to the support of HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed. His Highness sends a message to the athletes and to people of determination that by overcoming their difficulties they are a source of inspiration," H.H. Sheikh Hazza said.
The spectacle began with a video countdown that built excitement ahead of the evening’s entertainment. After the UAE national anthem, the host city video played to the crowds.
More than 1,000 Special Olympics athletes from 31 countries entered the arena to huge cheers and standing ovation, as they were led out by their representatives from the Adopt a Nation initiative and marched alongside members of the higher committee and celebrities including actor Hussein Fahmy, Olympians Michelle Kwan and Ibtihaj Mohammad and the first Saudi women to conquer Mount Everest, Raha Moharrak.
Thousands of people attended the opening ceremony onsite, with millions following it live on Abu Dhabi Sports Channel, watching how the event truly resonates with the values of tolerance, solidarity and peaceful coexistence deeply cherished by the UAE leadership.
The Special Olympics flag then entered ADNEC and symbolic oaths were declared by representatives for both the athletes and coaches. It was then declared that Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018 was officially open.
A video then played to the audience and viewers watching at home, which showcased the torch relay that took place last week. The ‘Flame of Hope’ was shown on its journey from a bedouin camp in the desert to several of the emirate’s landmark sites, including Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace and Louvre Abu Dhabi.
As the video ended, the ‘Flame of Hope’ then entered ADNEC and was used to light the Special Olympics cauldron, which will burn for the entirety of the Games.
A final musical performance by Emirati singer Hamad Al Ameri brought the opening ceremony to a close.
More than 1,000 athletes from 31 countries have travelled to Abu Dhabi to take part in MENA IX Games, which is the first major sporting event ahead of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
Athletes will take part in 16 different sports that will be hosted in eight different venues including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club. Entry across all the sites is open to the public.
Addressing ceremony, Hessa Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, spoke high of the role played by late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in sowing the seeds of fraternity and solidarity between different segments of society, affirming that the UAE leadership is staunchly committed to this drive of social cohesiveness and to engaging People of Determination into the society."
"We are determined to keep developing more initiatives conducive to building a more comprehensive world and ensure that our national policy enables all segments of society to unleash their potential regardless of their physical abilities," the minister said.
For her part, Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs, said, "When the Government of Abu Dhabi began exploring the idea of the UAE hosting the Special Olympics Games, we discovered a natural fit between us, as if we were looking at the world through a shared lens. The Special Olympics facilitates will power quite remarkably by providing a platform where all People of Determination have the space to be unlimited and a playing field for each to reach their full potential and purpose. To say no to what derails us from our goals and yes to what leads us in the right direction, that is the ultimate use of will power."
Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, made a welcome speech, where he said, "We are here not just as athletes and fans, but as brothers and sisters joined together in a sacred belief a belief that sport is the great playground of meeting and learning to play together, a belief that we must make the world safe for the beauty of every human-being to shine, a belief that giving and receiving is the energy of love, a belief that if we see with the eyes of love, we will see the world as it truly can be: full of justice and joy."
Ayman Abdel Wahab, President and Managing Director, Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa, said, "This is a unique edition of Special Olympics, as it sees 850 athletes participating from 19 countries in the region and for the first time 150 athletes from 13 countries outside the region. This was also the first time the Host Town programme has been organised in a regional games. The most important thing for this ninth edition of the regional games is the final step in preparations for the largest humanitarian sports event in the world, which will be hosted for the first time in the region when Abu Dhabi welcomes 7,000 athletes at Special Olympics World Games 2019."
Special Olympics IX MENA Games and Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are part of the UAE’s National Vision 2021 that highlights full integration of people of determination into everyday society. Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will be the most ‘unified’ games in history and promise to offer an inclusive experience for those with and without intellectual disabilities.
Attending the opening as well were H.H. Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation and President of the UAE National Olympic Committee, H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Supreme Committee for the Protection of the Rights of People of Determination, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, Sheikha Sheikha Al-Abdullah Al-Khalifa Al-Sabah, the Honorary Chairperson of Kuwaiti Disabled Sports Club, and a number of ministers and top executives.