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…until the opening ceremony of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 ​

With the help of a crack team of volunteer sports reporters Abu Dhabi World brings you some very unique perspectives of the action from the first day of the Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018.


Badminton – ADNEC

Volunteer reporter: Liz Beneski

The courts seem massive at first; six courts of play spread across the arena. One by one, the stories play out as the matches, and soon, the audience is drawn to one or two specific match-ups. Today’s play featured both singles and unified play, for men and women.

Badminton is a popular Special Olympic sport, and benefits the athletes greatly, as it explores speed changes and reaction time demands, in addition to building muscle strength and endurance.


Today’s action included 56 players, from 14 countries just in the singles play; with athletes from Chinese Taipei, Iraq, UAE, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Oman, Macau, Bahrain, Lebanon, Palestine, Mauritania and the Ivory Coast.

Energetic from the start, the crowd filled the morning with chants of U-A-E, U-A-E! But as the competition day continued, the fans from Egypt grew in numbers. While they didn’t bring the Pharaohs from the Opening Ceremony for good luck, they had a good-sized fan base chanting along to a Tabla player.

One of the small, but touching, moments of today was a charming example of sportsmanship.

After a match between players from Mauritania and Lebanon, the losing player – who was playing despite injury – needed assistance walking. The winning team’s coach stepped immediately in to comfort the athlete and ensure he received the needed attention – while other players stopped by with words of encouragement. In sport, there are only friends – true inclusion.

Basketball – ADNEC

Volunteer reporter and photographer: Jill Bordelon-Munir

Bouncing off the basketball courts at Special Olympics IX MENA Games Abu Dhabi 2018 was blinding unity, tolerance and coexistence. It rippled through the dozens of games played on each court. From the onset of each ‘jump ball’ tip off was a hopeful set of hands with extreme determination and undeniable heart.


What was captured during each game was not a win or loss but the love of basketball. The supportive nature of teams to their teammate and opponents. Each member played their position, knew their valuable role and how it contributed to them being winners. Even if the scoreboard sometimes reflected something different.

On full display were smiles and words of encouragement. It was not about slam dunks or three pointers. It was about playing the best game together as a team and making friends.


Head coach of KSA’s Mens Team Abdulrazaq Banufallatah said: “I talk to my players and tell them the game is a friendly game. If you train hard you will get lucky. If you stop the other team will get lucky. It is important not to shout at your teammates. Please encourage your teammate and listen to my words. If I ask you to do something and you find that the path is blocked, I will expect you to find another path. If it does not happen as planned it’s OK and next time you will be lucky. It’s important to lift up your brother, not tear him down.”

What was remarkable was each team’s coaches.  They coached but they understood and had a feel for when to push and when to accept the decision their athletes made on the court.

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Hesham Farouk the UAE Men’s and Woman’s Head Coach said: “We respect each of our players. We know each has contributing value to the success of our team. Athletes get disappointed at times and even upset and this is when coaching really matters. We talk with them to get their head back into the game. We want them to believe in themselves, believe in their teammates and have fun. You must have a winning mind to be a winning team.”


The games are a catalyst to improve lives of those with intellectual disabilities. Let the games continue!

Handball – Al Jazira Sports Club

Volunteer reporter: Katie Haverluk

Handball is a sport that requires athletes to have incredible speed and agility, in addition to stamina, as each half is 30 minutes of back and forth frenetic play.

Today’s matches didn’t disappoint. The UAE took home the first win of the day over Ivory Coast, 33 to 28.

The later game was between Oman and Ivory Coast. Oman played aggressively and passionately compared to Ivory Coast’s calculated and precise strategy. Though the game was competitive for the full hour of play time, true sportsmanship was shown by all. The happiness experienced from a great pass, to a scored goal, radiated throughout the stadium. While the teams were competitive with each other, no one ever hesitated to assist a fallen member of the opposite team.

The game reached a crescendo as each team scored back and forth for the final 10 minutes. In the end, it was a tie at 27 all. Both teams celebrated a great game, happily congratulating each other.

There were also division II matches  between Syria and Egypt, and later Egypt and Iraq.

Swimming – NYUAD

Volunteer reporter and photographer: Ashaar Rizik Jumah

The smell of fresh water hit me first, then the sight of people cheering together in unison ignited a sense of unity within me. The only feeling that radiated from the surroundings at NYUAD pool was love and happiness.

Family, friends, volunteers and Special Olympics staff lined the area around the swimming pool waiting for the competition to begin and the athletes eagerly clung to the edge of the pool, poised for the blaring sound of the whistle.


The first round of swimming competition was fierce especially between Morocco and Tunisia each notching up four wins in the 100m freestyle and 25m backstroke, respectively. However, it was a big day for Egypt who earned six podium spots including: 50m breaststroke from division 10A (find out about divisioning here), Sally Fayez Sayed took 2nd and Youssef Alaaeldin Riad from division 10B 1st place; 100M freestyle Yasmin Ahmed earned 1st place and Nada Mohamed won 2nd place from division 3A; from division 3B Jana Magdy swam her way through to 1st place; and lastly Maher Sherif ended on top of division 3D.

Throughout the day, the atmosphere was light-hearted and the positivity contagious. With music, awards, smiles, food, and people of different cultures and beliefs coming together to celebrate equality of self-worth for spectators and athletes alike it was  definitely a day well-spent.

Cycling – Yas Marina Circuit

Volunteer reporter: Katie Haverluk

Countless Abu Dhabi sporting events are held together by the support of selfless volunteers and it was no different today at Yas Marina Circuit for the cycling. Long before competitions began at 10AM, the volunteers had arrived and kept spirits up for the duration of the day.

Competition started with the 5km time trial, women and men. Each time trial consisted of two laps around the course, beginning with a staggered, countdown start. Cyclists were competing from Egypt, Libya, Morocco, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, China, and Lebanon.

First up were the women, split into two heats. Loud cheers of encouragement from coaches and supporters could be heard as each rider left the starting chute and again as they flew by on each lap.

As the cyclists rode down the iconic final straight at Yas Marina Circuit, the determination and drive to the finish mirrored that of the riders from the Abu Dhabi Tour earlier this year. It was even more apparent during the afternoon’s 5km road races when all cyclists toed the line together. The women competing in two heats, and the men in four.

During the races, volunteers gathered with the spectators to support and cheer on the lycra clad racers. The rousing support from everyone in the crowd excited and encouraged the cyclists as they began and finished each race.

The first heat saw a quick start and the winner from Egypt finished in a fast eight minutes and eight seconds. The second heat kept a tight group of five for the first lap with Lebanon in the lead. As they rounded the corner into the final straight on the second lap, it was nearly a photo finish with two riders from Saudi Arabia pipping it. The final races saw victories from Libya and UAE to cap off an excellent day of racing by all.

The pure joy from the cyclists was evident from the hugs they greeted coaches with, and in the cheers they lavished on teammates.

Table Tennis – ADNEC

Volunteer reporter: Mridhulaa Suresh

Tick tock. Tick tock. For a moment the metronomic sound of plastic balls hitting the tables resonated around Hall 9 were the only sounds to be heard. The tense silence was eventually broken by a scream of joy from a player smashing home a point, followed by a chorus of encouragement from the crowd.


Table tennis matches got underway at 10am with athletes from different divisions playing against one another, across seven tables. Each match was contested over five games, players needing 11 points to win a game and three games to take the match.

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A particularly tense match was fought between Najat Alablam representing UAE and Elham Sadeghi for Iran. In the first game, Sadeghi, won 11-10, the second went to Alablam  11-8 and third to Sadeghi, 11-7. The action really heated up for game four which Alablam finally took just 11-10. It all came down to the last game with the audience hushed in nail-biting anticipation of the outcome. Not quite as close however as the proceeding games, Alablam emerged the winner 11-6.


Omar Mahmoud (Egypt) and Amirhossein Maleki’s (Iran) match up offered the crowd an equally edge-of-their-seat experience. Maleki’s practiced play won him the first two games (11-6, 14-11), then it was as if a new enthusiasm had gripped Mahmoud, he struck back with great force. He completely stole the show with his skilful smashes and carefully calculated strokes. He won the other three games (11-6, 11-9, 11-4) and the match. In the spirit of these inclusive games the two players shared a warm, genuine hug after the match.

Day 1 marked the end of the matches for Table Tennis singles. Day 2 will see the duos battle it out for the doubles titles.

Rollerskating – ADNEC

Volunteer reporter: Liz Beneski

The rollerskating venue was sometimes party, sometimes business – everything from dancing referees, coaches and timekeepers, to pumped up fans – even a visit from two-times Olympic medalist and five-times World Champion skater Michelle Kwan – kept the energy level high.


The athletes participated in several events, including 30m straight, 300m, 100m, and the 2X100M relay. Skaters of varying abilities were grouped together, so spectators enjoyed cheering them all on, from the fast and furious men to the most determined of skaters. Skaters ranged in age from eight to 32, proving that skating is an ageless sport.

From the start of races, it was clear there were some skaters destined to be fan favourites. Oman’s Ruiya AlHabsi shone bright as she waved and blew kisses, Algerian Ziad Difellah was the picture of determination with each skate stroke, and UAE Olympian and divisional 100m and 300m race winner, Aysha Al Nuaimi, had a huge cheering section to propel her to victory.

We spoke with Ms. Al Nuaimi after her win; she has been skating since the age of six. When asked to describe her MENA Games experience, she simply said, “Happy.” A perfect testament to the UAE’s Month of Happiness.

UAE’s Sayed Al Habash took gold in 300m – Division 4, and a visibly thrilled Kadem Ghanem (Lebanon) followed with his own 300m gold in Division 5. The crowds kept cheering, chanting and dancing the whole day through to the conclusion of the competition.


Rollerskating is a lifetime fitness sports activity, excellent for cardiovascular fitness, as well as balance and coordination development. But the greatest benefit may be the simplest: pure happiness.

Powerlifting – NYUAD

Volunteer reporter: Thirangie Jayatilake

Despite powerlifting sounding like it is going to be all about brawn – there was a cheerful, almost jovial, atmosphere around the stadium at NYUAD as smiling spectators supported the hardy competitors.

The male and female powerlifters in various weight classes would test their mettle over three rounds of challenges consisting of squats, bench presses and deadlifts. They were led onto the platform by their coaches who would often hold their hand and encourage them. And the crowd was extremely encouraging, clapping before, during and after a contestant’s lift attempt.

Even if the lift was not successful, the crowd gave a loud cheer – it really is the taking part that counts at these inclusive Games. And so, one by one, the contestants came to the platform with a smile on their face and very seldom leave without one.

Many of the contestants were more than happy to play to the crowd and soak up the atmosphere posing in various Schwarzenegger-like contortions.

But there was still a competition going on and in the first round, the heaviest weight – 80kg – was lifted by Yasmein Mohamed from Egypt in the female division and Ahmed Yaqut from Saudi Arabia in the male division took the lead with a 115kg deadlift. In the second round, the heaviest weight lifted was 130kg, by Ahmed Azzouz from Libya.

Each time a contestant attempted to lift a heavier weight, the crowd cheered loudly and chanted ‘hold’ as encouragement to the contestant to maintain their position steady. Regardless of the outcome, some contestants would raise their fists in a celebratory mode or send flying kisses into the audience.

As the power lifting competition continues, one thing is for sure, the contestants have raised the bar, both in terms of their sport skills but also in terms of their spirit towards the game.

Volleyball – ADNEC

Volunteer reporter: Mridhulaa Suresh

What other sport could better encompass the true essence of the Special Olympics movement than volleyball? The game is a truly intensive test of team spirit, coordination and camaraderie. You have to work as one if you want to keep the ball alive, let alone prevail!


ADNEC hall 9 played host to the volleyball matches for the different teams from the MENA region, namely – UAE, Oman, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Sri Lanka. The matches started bright and early with the Egyptian and Syrian teams on Court 1, where Syria won with a score of 2-0 in sets. Simultaneously, the Lebanese and UAE teams played on Court 2 but this match was a much a closer affair that had Lebanon emerge victor with a score of 2-1.


The highlight of the day had to be the last matches during which Lebanon played against Syria and the host team, UAE faced off against Egypt.

Syria and Lebanon were neck and neck, when one team scored, in a few seconds you could be sure that their opponents would return the favour in quick succession.


On the other hand, the match between UAE and Egypt could be described as unpredictable; the second you felt UAE was gaining the upper hand with their skilful passes and serves, the Egyptian team wow-ed you with their enthusiasm and the harmony between the team. Still someone had to win and the final champs were Lebanon and UAE.


The real winner of the day though was the wonderful support the players received from the audience. The home team of course was backed by a large group of spectators who sang songs and chanted “U-A-E! U-A-E!..” unfalteringly throughout the games.

Day 2 will shall see the final matches that will decide the top three teams for the Special Olympics – MENA games.