Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the 9th Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Games kicked off in Abu Dhabi.
H.H. Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, attended the launching ceremony at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, and described the Games as "a global event that buttresses the UAE's prestigious standing in the sports and humanitarian domains."
"The Emirates' hosting of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 is a dear dream cherished and supported by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed from the very beginning until it has become true in the Year of Zayed," Sheikh Hazza said.
"You are a source of inspiration and determination for overcoming challenges and surviving headwinds," he said to People of Determination.
Thousands of people attended the opening ceremony onsite, with millions following it live on Abu Dhabi Sports Channel, watching how the event truly resonates with the values of tolerance, solidarity and peaceful coexistence deeply cherished by the UAE leadership.
The ceremony opened with the National Anthem and a video titled "Welcome to Our City", followed by shots showing the arrival of more than 1,000 athletes from 31 countries into the pitch in an impressive musical spectacle that was greatly received by the audience, who then listened to two speeches by Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs, Member of the Special Olympics Board of Directors, and Engineer Ayman Abdul Wahab, President and Managing Director of the Middle East and North Africa Region of Special Olympics. The event was officially launched when the Special Olympics Flag was ushered into ADNEC with representatives of participating coaches and players reading the Olympics' official oath.
This was followed a video displaying the Olympic Flame Tour which was conducted over the past few days.
Addressing ceremony, Hessa Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development, spoke high of the role played by late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in sowing the seeds of fraternity and solidarity between different segments of society, affirming that the UAE leadership is staunchly committed to this drive of social cohesiveness and to engaging People of Determination into the society."
"We are determined to keep developing more initiatives conducive to building a more comprehensive world and ensure that our national policy enables all segments of society to unleash their potential regardless of their physical abilities," the minister said.
Athletes from 31 countries are taking part in the games which is considered the largest such event ahead of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
The event will see the participants vying in 16 different games hosted in eight different venues: ADNIC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, New York University Abu Dhabi, Officers Club, Mubadala Arena, Al Jazeera Sports Club, and Al Forsan Club. Entrance is open for all.
Attending the opening as well were H.H. Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation and President of the UAE National Olympic Committee, H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Supreme Committee for the Protection of the Rights of People of Determination, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, Sheikha Sheikha Al-Abdullah Al-Khalifa Al-Sabah, the Honorary Chairperson of Kuwaiti Disabled Sports Club, and a number of ministers and top executives.