Under the patronage of His Highness Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces, the Games were the most inclusive Regional Games in the MENA Region’s history with a record number of female athletes and Unified partners competing in 16 sports. In total, the Games brought together over 1,000 athletes, 300 coaches and 10,000 volunteers to highlight inclusion through sport on a global stage.
Special Olympics athletes, celebrities, honored guests, partners, volunteers, professional athletes and fans participated in the Unified Sports Experiences that took place on the sidelines of the Games to change perceptions for people with ID and spotlight the importance of inclusion and friendship.
With the support of volunteers, 50 young athletes with and without intellectual disabilities participated in a short Young Athletes Demonstration and showcased their talents and abilities. The 30-minute spotlight event included a warm up, passing, jumping, shooting and balancing drills.
At the Special Olympics Motor Activity Training Program Demonstration, athletes with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and significant physical disabilities participated in sport-specific activities appropriate for their ability levels. The athletes demonstrated their abilities at each skills station and were recognized for achieving their personal best.
In addition to displaying the unifying power of sport, the IX MENA Regional Games demonstrated how sports can open doors to accelerating access to health services, enjoyment of human rights and human development for people with intellectual disabilities. The efforts of Special Olympics were noticed by the highest agencies and UN Special Rapporteurs and Envoys responsible for protecting human rights of people with disabilities worldwide. A delegation of high-level United Nations agencies and Special Procedures, as well as representatives from the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), attended sport and health events throughout the week to observe how initiatives like the Games can support countries in their efforts to protect health and other human rights of persons with intellectual disabilities.
The delegation also headlined a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Special Olympics Healthy Athletes made possible by the Golisano Foundation. Healthy Athletes offered free health screenings and education to over 1,000 athletes competing at the MENA Regional Games in seven disciplines: podiatry, vision, dentistry, physical therapy/fitness, nutrition and healthy habits, audiology, and emotional well-being.
“I see commitment and political will. At Healthy Athletes, I saw many young doctors performing athlete screenings. The main task is now for all governments to replicate these practices and to integrate them into general health care systems,” shared Dr. Dainius Puras, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health. Maria Soledad Cisternas, UN Secretary General Envoy on Disability and Accessibility, also participated in the IX MENA Regional Games.
Athlete leaders from 11 Programs participated in the 9th Special Olympics MENA Athlete Leadership Congress. The program involved a series of working sessions on leadership, project planning, time management, healthy nutrition and evaluation. The athlete leaders played an active role in evaluating the Games by visiting the sports venues, speaking to athletes and coaches, and ultimately submitting their suggestions to help improve Games experiences.
At the 10th Special Olympics MENA Family Forum, family members and siblings from 11 Programs were invited and shared their experiences, challenges, suggestions and worked to create a plan of actions to support in raising awareness about Special Olympics and people with intellectual disabilities. It was the first MENA Family Forum to bring siblings with and without intellectual disabilities together and empower them to become leaders of the Unified Generation and make their communities more inclusive for everyone.
Youth leaders from eight countries gathered at the 8th Special Olympics MENA Youth Leadership Summit for three days of youth-led discussions. Youth leaders with and without intellectual disabilities developed skills to become agents of change in their communities, discussing issues of inclusion, building partnerships, planning and project management.