Special Olympics 2019: Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba emphasises values of compassion and tolerance

  • After playing a 7-a-side match at the Zayed Sports City, Drogba felt overwhelmed by the generosity and the energy levels of athletes who have intellectual disabilities

  • The UAE celebrates 2019 as a national effort towards further advancing a decades-long dream of creating a tolerant and cohesive society

  • In the UAE, these values are more important than ever, particularly with the celebration of the Year of Tolerance in 2019

Abu Dhabi: Tolerance. Everyone in Abu Dhabi seems to emphasise the values of compassion and tolerance. You'll hear people talk about it at coffee shops. The families, the tourists and even at the press conferences, there is a huge chatter in the country. In the UAE, these values are more important than ever, particularly with the celebration of the Year of Tolerance in 2019. For them, the UAE's tradition goes hand in hand with tolerance.

Even Chelsea legend Didier Drogba has been talking about the relentless drive to spread the awareness of tolerance. "Tolerance is the most important thing when you live together and that's the first rule you learn when you play a sport. Be it individual sport or a team sport, every time you play, you have to respect your teammate and your opponent, you need to respect the referee. We are human, we make mistakes, we have choices and differences but we live together," said Drogba, who is one of the Global Ambassadors of the Special Olympics.

 Special Olympics 2019: Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba emphasises values of compassion and tolerance

Didier Drogba interacts with athletes with intellectual disabilities. Shivam Damohe/Firstpost

After playing a 7-a-side match at the Zayed Sports City, Drogba felt overwhelmed by the generosity and the energy levels of athletes who have intellectual disabilities. "Today, I tell you, they're not a part of us. We are a part of them," he said. "These people today, they decided to include us, wanted us to be a part of their game to know exactly who they are, what they are capable of, what they can do. They play with even more passion as there is togetherness and tolerance."

The UAE celebrates 2019 as a national effort towards further advancing a decades-long dream of creating a tolerant and cohesive society, open to peoples of varying cultures and religions from around the world. For 200 million people with differences, 200 nations assembled across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the Special Olympics is also a movement that transcends beyond tolerance and acceptance of these athletes with intellectual disabilities.

"You know when you're playing football, the first thing you do when you come to the changing room is, and you shake the other guy's hands. You say your name, you say good morning. This is respect and when you play together you can be as talented as you want but if you play alone you will never achieve anything. Your teammates help you. So you have to tolerate them you have to accept them, you have to love them and you have to understand them," said the former Ivory Coast striker.

As soon as Drogba landed in Abu Dhabi, he had a chat with the 120-member contingent from Ivory Coast. Not only was he inspired by them, but he also learned a handful of values from the excited bunch. "I told them that I'm really proud to be with them and I wanted them to teach me a lot of things and while playing you could see that they choose to have us in their team. They have the power of changing the world, the message they are going to spread and that’s what they are doing now by playing football and also all the other sports here," he said.

The former Chelsea forward further added how sport helped him overcome his fears on and off the field. "My goal is to support what Special Olympics is doing for 50 years. Can you imagine what was happening 50 years ago? We didn't have the TV, we didn't have the media, we didn't have the quality of the field, and we didn't have the infrastructure to enjoy. I was not shy but introvert. I could only express my emotions and myself by playing football. Sport helped me cope with everything," he concluded.

The writer is in Abu Dhabi on an invitation from Special Olympics World Games.

Updated Date: Mar 15, 2019 21:36:45 IST