Meet the women bringing a dose of girl power to the UAE Special Olympics movement
The UAE aims to create inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities throughout the UAE, the region and the world. As Abu Dhabi prepares to host the 2019 Special Olympics World Games, as well as the Regional Games in March, Abu Dhabi World takes a look at the contributions women will be making to these prestigious events.
Living the dream
The dynamic Loretta Claiborne, global spokesperson and member of the board of directors for the Special Olympics, recently visited Abu Dhabi to speak at the Fourth International Conference of Sports for Women. Claiborne won her first gold medal in the 1993 World Games and went on to win dozens of medals in other sports that include karate, skiing, skating, basketball and track and field. She told her story of amazing triumphs by way of the Special Olympics and declared Abu Dhabi an integral part of her dreams.
“The world is coming to Abu Dhabi and if I see the difference it will make in people from the United States coming to Abu Dhabi, my dream will be successful,” she said.
Special Olympics Ambassador and six time Olympic gold medalist, Allyson Felix (pictured) took part in recent promotional activities around the Special Olympic World Games being held in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
“Hey Kobe, I accept your challenge and I am now at NYUAD and I’m about to host a track clinic for special Olympic athletes and student athletes,” she said in a video posted on the World Games AD Facebook page, in which she riffs with famous basketball star Kobe Bryant.
Felix held sprint clinics and was also seen motivating athletes all around the emirate, from NYUAD to the American Community School. Speaking about Abu Dhabi as the hosting city, she noted: “I think it’s going to be great for Abu Dhabi but I think it’s going to be great for everyone participating in the Special Olympics. Everyone will benefit from it.”
As many as 20,000 volunteers are needed to host the World Games from 14th to 21st March 2019. People from across the UAE are invited to volunteer for hundreds of possible roles like issuing credentials, supporting online outreach, coordinating events and assisting sport officials. Felix encourages everyone to participate. Speaking about volunteering, she said: “I think it’s a great opportunity to give [volunteers] exposure to what the Special Olympics movement is all about.”
Representing the home team
Ladies are leading both on and off the field like Mariam Al Zaabi, an Emirati Special Olympics athlete, who represented the UAE in the 2007 Summer Special Olympics World Games held in Shanghai. Abu Dhabi is set to host the 2019 Special Olympics World Games and Al Zaabi, participated in the signing ceremony. She carried the Special Olympics flag at the event and expressed excitement about the games being held in her home country.
She told newspapers: “Now that the Special Olympic Games are coming here, more focus will be given to special needs children. It’s a great event and honour for the country to host it”.
She continued: “I am happy that so much care is being given to us by our country’s leaders.”
First in line
It’s not just female sports stars past and present who are flying the flag for the Special Olympics; women from around the region are being encouraged to join the movement.
Recently, Special Olympics Egypt held its first ever training programme for female football coaches in Alexandria. Under the direction of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the programme focused on football training methods and English language skills to develop coaches and referees. Fifty female coaches from different governorates were trained therefore increasing the pool of female coaches in Egypt. Although this effort was done in preparation for the Special Olympics MENA First Unified Female Football cup that was held in December 2017, its effects are likely to be positive overall and far reaching including at the 2019 World Games.
To further boost female participation in the MENA region, Special Olympics MENA held the first ever Unified Female Football Cup in Cairo. Three female teams participated from Egypt, Tunisia and the UAE. Egypt qualified for the first all-World Cup that will be held in Chicago between July 17th and 22nd, alongside the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the Special Olympics movement.