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.”
Ireland’s Straight Blast Gym clinched the inaugural Reign MMA Championship in Dubai over the weekend.
The team, headed up by world renowned coach, John Kavanagh, got the better of MMA Association Poland.
The unique format saw the main card made up of matches pitting fighters from the two teams against each other.
Reign MMA Championship is the brainchild of Core, a production company who brought the World’s Ultimate Strongman event to Dubai last year.
The event was contested by amateurs, but the quality of both the fights and event as a whole was anything but.
Along with hundreds ringside at the Sky Bubble at The Meydan Hotel, more than 10,000 people watched the event through a dedicated livestream.
The main event saw a heavyweight clash between Bartosz Zaczeniuk and Irish prospect Ryan Spillane.
The Corkman looked confident on his feet early on, but then found himself on his back for much of the round as the Polish fighter looked to impose his will on the floor.
After defending well from the bottom position, Spillane was able to sink in a heel hook late in the round and secure an impressive win – topping off a great night for the Irish gym.
Earlier in the night, the promotion broke new ground in holding their first women’s MMA bout – a highly competitive battle between SBG’s Dee Begley and MMA Association Poland’s Barbara Grabowska.
A tough stand-up match ensued, with the Corkwoman taking a unanimous decision – and helping her team on the way to overall victory.
Don Idrees, Owner/CEO at Core Worldwide, was satisfied with the first hosting of the event and is looking forward to what the future holds for the promotion.
“We had a fantastic night of quality fights,” he said.
“The matches were competitive, and entertaining and a huge amount of credit must go to the fighters and their respective teams. John Kavanagh and Martin
Lewandowski brought really strong teams over here, and we very much thank them for that.
“We wanted to show there was an appetite for MMA in Dubai and the reaction to this inaugural event proves there certainly is.”
He is now excited about what the future holds for the fledgling organisation.
“We will unquestionably be holding more events,” he said. “Even before this weekend’s event we have had fighters, coaches, gyms and organisations from all over the world get in touch to discuss future opportunities.
“The professional level of this sport is dominated by a few companies, so we will continue down the amateur route, and with this team versus team format.
“This is an exciting time for sport and entertainment in Dubai and Reign MMA is another part of this.”