Special Olympics 2019: More than 7,500 athletes from 200 countries to participate in mega event in UAE

‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.’

The motto of Special Olympics sets the tone. It embodies what every athlete wants to pursue in life. It dispels the myth that children with intellectual disabilities must be confined behind the walls of unique and uncommon societies.

Celebrating its 50th year, the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will play host to the forthcoming of the Special Olympics World Games 2019. The organisation believes in a world where there are many types of abilities but no disabilities.

A total of around 7,500 athletes from 200 countries will participate in the global extravaganza that will be held in the UAE between 14-21 March

What is Special Olympics? 

 Special Olympics 2019: More than 7,500 athletes from 200 countries to participate in mega event in UAE

Representational image. Special Olympics

The Special Olympics is a global movement that promises to unleash the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of the sport. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, the Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 competitions throughout the year.

The Special Olympic events were hosted in cities across the United States until the Summer Games moved to Dublin in 2003. China became the first Asian host of the Special Olympics World Summer Games when the competition was held in Shanghai in 2007.

What’s more? The organisation’s program Healthy Athletes offers 1.4 million free health examinations in more than 120 countries to athletes at Special Olympics competitions. Health professionals perform a full exam in the categories of podiatry, physical therapy, audiology, vision, dentistry, physical therapy and more.

Playing team sports has been shown to build camaraderie and Special Olympics Unified Sports combines those with intellectual disabilities and those without to play together on a team. Over half a million people worldwide participate.

Different from Paralympics

Be it Special Olympics or Paralympics, both platforms provide opportunities for athletes with disabilities to show their mettle to the world. However, they are not the same.

Paralympics features disabled athletes in sporting events catered to their physical constraints. Athletes could have physical disabilities that impede their mobility. Paralympics hosts winter and summer events that immediately follow the main Olympics.

Meanwhile, the Special Olympics involve athletes with intellectual disabilities.

An athlete must be at least eight years old to participate and identified by a professional as having one of the following conditions: intellectual disabilities, cognitive delays as measured by formal assessment, or significant learning or vocational problems due to cognitive delay that requires or have required specially designed instruction.

History of Special Olympics: A worldwide movement

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, was the heart and soul of the Special Olympics Movement. She envisioned a campaign, which set the tone for a successful movement. Interestingly, she didn’t look elsewhere for inspiration as sister Rosemary had an intellectual disability. Rosemary grew up during a time when people did not talk about intellectual disabilities. Who would know that a 1962 article in the Saturday Evening Post, written by Eunice about Rosemary and the family's struggles would change the attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities?

Eunice had identified sports as a potential platform that can unite people from all different walks. She had the vision to create a space where people with intellectual disabilities could play and compete – giving them the opportunity to highlight their talents.

The first international Special Olympics was held at Soldier Field, Chicago in July 1968 with 1,000 athletes competing in track and field and swimming. Forty-seven years later the Special Olympics has morphed into a movement that empowers and transforms lives.

A thousand athletes with intellectual disabilities from 26 USA states and Canada competed in track and field, swimming, and floor hockey. Today, the Special Olympics involve over four million athletes in more than 170 countries worldwide.

The next five decades saw Special Olympics expand the horizon and include nearly 4.9 million athletes from 172 nations. Athletes have since played a greater role in shaping the Games. In the 1980s, participant activism led to the formation of the Special Olympics Unified Sports Initiative, which has since encouraged greater opportunities for intellectually-disabled athletes to compete with other athletes.

An overview of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Image: Shivam Damohe

An overview of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Image: Shivam Damohe

Sporting disciplines in UAE

Floor hockey, swimming, and track and field were the first three official sports when the Games began in 1968 in Chicago.

The Special Olympics at Abu Dhabi will witness sporting action involving a total of 24 disciplines: Athletics, basketball, badminton, beach volleyball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics (artistic and rhythmic), handball, judo, kayaking, open water swimming, powerlifting, roller skating, sailing, swimming, table tennis, triathlon and volleyball.

The ability of each athlete with the aid of determiners such as entry scores and results of seeding rounds are taken into consideration to make sure individuals compete with athletes who have similar abilities.

The UAE is hosting the Special Olympics for the first time and will begin with an opening ceremony on 14 March.

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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2019 19:02:06 IST