Spectacular Ceremony Launched Countdown to Abu Dhabi 2019

Closing Ceremony in Graz, Austria, celebrated the conclusion to this year’s Special Olympics World Winter Games and the start of the countdown to Abu Dhabi becoming the first Middle East host of a flagship global sports and humanitarian event.

Emirati performers were put into the global sporting spotlight as the UAE capital officially began the countdown to hosting the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

They took to the stage as the 2017 Special Olympics Winter Games came to a conclusion in Austria - putting on a show that featured UAE nationals from different segments of society, including Special Olympics United Arab Emirates athletes who competed at the World Games days before.

The performance, watched by a packed UPS Stadium in the Austrian city of Graz and by millions live on television around the world featured a live performance from popular Emirati singer, Hamad Al Ameri and used a traditional Bedouin desert setting to tell the story of how Abu Dhabi will use the Games to promote key values such as respect and inclusion for all in society.

As the show drew to a close, the Abu Dhabi delegation then revealed the logo for the Special Olympics World Games 2019. The logo, which was inspired by the Emirati tradition of palm frond weaving (Khoos) is a metaphor for the unifying power of the Games, and demonstrates how Abu Dhabi will create a spirit of inclusion and unity between all members of society.

Handing Over the Flag

The UAE delegation, including HH Sheikh Nahyan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and HE Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, Chairman and CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the first sponsor for the 2019 World Games were all in attendance as the countdown began to the event in Abu Dhabi from March 14-21, 2019.

Sheikh Nahyan was joined by His Excellency Mohammed Abdullah Al Junaibi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi World Games Higher Committee, HE Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, HE Dr Maha Barakat, Director General of the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, Majed Al Usaimi, National Director of Special Olympics UAE and MD of the Abu Dhabi World Games Higher Committee, HE Mohamad Al Hameli, Chairman of the Disabled Sports Federation and HE Ibrahim Abdelmalek, Undersecretary of the General Authority for Youth and Sports, as well as other leading dignitaries and representatives of the Local Organising Committee from Abu Dhabi.

The flag handover represented one of the key moments of the Closing ceremony. Guests and viewers tuning in were treated to a visual extravaganza that highlighted the culture of current host Austria, as well as an array of entertainment centred around the values and cultural themes of the United Arab Emirates.

The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 Local Organizing Committee also hosted a special reception for 300 people in Graz, which included an array of high-profile celebrities such as Hussein Fahmy, and Special Olympics International Board Member and NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, in addition to delegation representatives from more than 100 countries competing at the World Games. The event was used as an opportunity to invite the world to Abu Dhabi - from international dignitaries and celebrities to athletes and their families, and spectators from all walks of life.

The Countdown Begins

Approximately 7,000 athletes from 170 nations will descend on Abu Dhabi for more than two weeks of competition. Male and female athletes with intellectual disabilities from numerous cultures and backgrounds will compete alongside each other in a worldwide competition that showcases their sporting abilities in 22 sports, including gymnastics, basketball, cycling,figure skating, football and golf.

HH Sheikh Nahyan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: "On behalf of the UAE, I am delighted to receive the flag that officially marks the countdown to the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. It is a great honour to be the first nation in the Middle East to be awarded this event. We are committed to the principles of sporting excellence for all members of our community and we look forward to welcoming the thousands of athletes from around the world to the United Arab Emirates. Our nation is built around the core values of tolerance and inclusion and becoming the host nation of the Special Olympics World Games underpins those values.

"This ceremony marks the official countdown to the Special Olympics, which will be held in Abu Dhabi in just under two years' time. The games will be historical for not only the UAE, but also the Arab world as it is the first time the region plays host to a multi-discipline sporting event of this magnitude.

"I have faith that the UAE will come together to welcome the world to Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics. Our clear ambition will be for these games to redefine the Special Olympics World Games for future generations. In keeping with our national values, we intend tostage the most unified World Games in the history of the Special Olympics."

His Excellency Mohamed Al Junaibi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi World Games Higher Committee said: "This ceremony is an official indication to show the whole world the authenticity of the UAE's ambition and philanthropy and how we are positive in thinking and implementing.

"It is really the time to harvest one of the fruits which has been planted by the founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (may God have mercy upon him) and his sons who followed his approach. it is a great opportunity to put the seeds of giving to be collected by future generations.

"We will all participate side by side with differently abled athletes who come from all over the world and we will learn from them the true meaning of the term "challenge"."

The Special Olympics and the United Arab Emirates, which were established within three years of each other, were both founded on the premise that inclusive qualities such as tolerance, unity, and goodwill not only empower individuals to succeed, but yield productive communities that improve society as a whole.

Dr Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics added: "I am honored to pass the Special Olympics flag to our next host of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games - Abu Dhabi! Hosting the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi is a historic moment not only in Special Olympics, but in sport. This is the very first time a sporting organization is hosting a World Games in the Middle East. We are so honored by the interest of the Crown Prince, the entire government and the support of the people of Abu Dhabi to bring our World Games to Abu Dhabi. We have seen that inclusion and integration of citizens and residents with differences is a priority for UAE leadership, and we are inviting the world to come together in celebration of sport, in celebration of all kinds, to demonstrate to the world that the lines of division can be erased."

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and ADNOC Group CEO said: "We are pleased ADNOC is the first and main sponsor for the Special Olympics 2019. Hosting this event, in the UAE, reflects the humanitarian values instilled by the country's founding President, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. These values underpin the UAE's commitment to providing facilities and platforms that enable people with special needs to participate fully in daily life and to participate in global sports competitions.

"Awarding the 2019 Special Olympics to Abu Dhabi is a vote of confidence, from the global community, that the UAE can organise world class events and ensure their success. This event also provides an opportunity for the UAE to showcase our achievements and our focus on making a positive difference in people's lives. I invite everyone in the UAE to support these games by promoting them and encouraging athletes with special needs".

The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will feature 22 sports, including Football, Swimming, Cycling, Athletics, Equestrian and Powerlifting.

The Abu Dhabi segment of the closing ceremony will be broadcast throughout the Mother of the Nation Festival at Abu Dhabi Corniche from 26 March - 4 April at 6.15pm, daily.

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 5 million athletes and Unified partners in more than 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, United Airlines, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, Safilo Group, and TOYOTA. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium.