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Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 Makes History by Welcoming 200 Nations

  • Record 200 nations represented at the World Games – 195 participating and 5 observing
  • Start of the next 50 years of Special Olympics begins with a ‘Games of Firsts’—more nations, more female athletes, and more unified than ever before
  • The UAE has the biggest team at the World Games, while Saudi Arabia sends female athletes for first time

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – 13 March 2019: Special Olympics World Games 2019 has made history by welcoming a record-breaking 200 nations ahead of the World Games. Of the 200 nations, 195 will compete in the Games and five will observe.

At the official opening press conference, held on 13 March at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics, 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.”

Held in the Middle East for the first time, 7,500 athletes will take part in 24 Olympic-style sports over seven days. 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.

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces, Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 is an integral part of local, national and regional plans to expand opportunities for people of determination in line with Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s shared vision of a unified and inclusive society.

Taking place from 14 – 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.

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.

Nine world-class venues in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will accommodate 500,000 spectators, 1,500 officials will referee the Games, while 3,000 coaches will assist the athletes.

Other speakers at the official opening press conference, included Her Excellency Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, His Excellency Saif Saeed Ghobash, Member of the Higher Committee for Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, Eng. Ayman Abdel Wahab, Regional President of Special Olympics MENA and Maryam Ahmad Mohammad Thyab, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger to discuss the positive local, regional and global impact the World Games has already had and how it will continue to change perceptions of people of determination.

H.E. Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid 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.”

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.”

Omar Suwaina Al Suwaidi, Executive Office Director at ADNOC, added: “The Special Olympics World Games reflects the values of inclusion, coexistence and humanity that are embedded in the very core of UAE society. Hosting the games in the Year of Tolerance reinforces the UAE’s ethos to build a society where people of all cultures and abilities are welcomed and celebrated.”

“ADNOC as a presenting partner of the Special Olympics is proud the event is taking place in Abu Dhabi and extends all its support towards People of Determination through the transformative power of sports. At ADNOC, we stand unified and committed to continue enabling social progress and creating positive impact on society.”

The UAE Government recently launched a national policy to empower people with special needs. The term ‘people of determination was introduced as part of this policy, which also set out the key pillars of inclusivity: health and rehabilitation, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, outreach, social protection and family empowerment and public life, culture and sports.

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.

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968, and celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 6 million athletes and Unified Sports partners in more than 190 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including Bank of America, the Christmas Records Trust, The Coca-Cola Company, ESPN, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, Lions Clubs International Foundation, Microsoft, Safilo Group, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, TOYOTA, United Airlines, and The Walt Disney Company. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium. Learn more at

Media Contact

Mark Daley
Special Olympics
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