For the first time, the global sports event dedicated to people with special needs held in the Middle East.

The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi kicked off on 14th March 2019 to a sold-out crowd. Cheering and waving, around 7,500 athletes representing 195 countries took part in a 90-minute-long parade in the capital’s Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The “Flame of Hope” torch arrived at Abu Dhabi’s main stadium, after touching down in the seven Emirates, to mark the opening of the games. The seven day event will have as many as 24 Olympic Sports competitions, across nine venues in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. With the highest number of women taking part and the largest number of Unified team mates on board, the World Games will capture the attention of the globe.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – March 14, 2019: (R-L) HH Sheikh Hamad bin Mohamed Al Sharqi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah, HE Nursultan Nazarbayev President of Kazakhstan, HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and HM King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa King of Bahrain, attend the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, at Zayed Sports City.

“His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s attendance of the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 represented a great royal support for sisterly UAE in hosting and organising such a mega international event”, HM the King’s Representative for Charity Work and Youth Affairs and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sport, HH Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, said.

In a statement marking the opening of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, HH Shaikh Nasser stressed that HM the King’s keenness to support athletes with determination, noting that the world event is an opportunity to confirm HM King Hamad’s support for the UAE’s initiative aimed at achieving the interests of these athletes, including the hosting of such a mega sports gathering which is a platform to shed light on their achievements and outstanding capabilities in various games.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – March 14, 2019: (L-R) HH Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ajman, HM King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain, HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, HE Nursultan Nazarbayev President of Kazakhstan, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Mohamed Al Sharqi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah and HE Macky Sall President of Senegal, attend the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, at Zayed Sports City.

HH Shaikh Nasser pointed out that the attendance of HM the King and the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, HH Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, has brought the event under world spotlight, and would be an opportunity for athletes with special needs to showcase their distinction and outstanding skills.

The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 is part of the UAE’s efforts to harness sports to serve its humanitarian goals. The UAE officially uses the term “people of determination” to describe those with learning disabilities. The phrase was introduced in April 2017 by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as part of the national strategy to empower people with disabilities.

Ahead of the World Games, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan took to twitter to highlight the importance of global mobilisation towards this goal.

“Mohammed bin Rashid and I took part in the People of Determination Retreat. Our mission is to mobilize a global effort to empower them. Building societies properly require the contribution of all its members & they are an important segment. We wish them a bright future.”

Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, adopted the “people of determination” terminology to speak about the significance of the event ahead of its opening.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – March 14, 2019: HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (3rd L), delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, at Zayed Sports City. Seen with HE Mohamed Al Junaibi, Director of the President’s Protocol Office at the UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of the Special olympics Higher Committee (L).

“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,” she said in a press conference earlier this week.

Around 200 million people worldwide have a learning disability, according to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Musicians including Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne and Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi, famous for the 2017 hit “Despacito”, performed live at the opening ceremony.Alongside international artists, Emirati musician, Hussain Al Jassmi sang to a crowd of over 40,000 people.

Taking place on March 14-21 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.

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.”