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The Special Olympics is Coming to the MENA Region for the First Time

This exciting, inclusive event will be held in March 2019 in Abu Dhabi, and will do wonders for raising awareness of disability.

In March 2019, the Special Olympics World Games is to be hosted in Abu Dhabi, marking the competition’s first appearance in the MENA region. These games take place every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter games. The athletes, who can compete in 32 Olympic-style sports, are adults and children with disabilities. Noha Gallaby, from the Special Olympics, tells us, “In 2019 we will have 7,000 athletes, 100 of whom are Egyptian. The only restriction is that athletes must be over 8 years old; we divide athletes into groups according to their abilities so everyone has the opportunity to participate.”


The primary aim of the Special Olympics organisation, which was founded in 1968, is to empower those with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round sports training and competitions. “In Egypt,” Gallaby explains, “People with intellectual disabilities are very excluded. In schools, other students don’t want to play with them; they are ignored, and so are their abilities.” Just as happens with regular athletes, the organisation also trains young children. The Youth Athlete Initiative provides a sports and training programme for children aged 2-7, teaching vital skills to increase hand-eye-coordination as well as basic sports. Gallaby adds, “There also aren’t many coaches who know how to deal with people with intellectual disabilities, so we provide regular training.”

Egypt has some prominent Special Olympic athletes who are doing wonders in raising awareness for intellectual disabilities. Dina Galal started her career in 2004 with Special Olympics MENA, and she is now she is working both here, and for the Presidential Palace, where she collects information about actions and events within the president’s administration, gathers news, prepares reports, and helps to run the president’s daily schedule. Famous Egyptian Special Olympic swimmer Mostafa Galal, will be participating in the Special Olympics not as an athlete, but as a delegate. Having won a host of gold, silver, and bronze medals both internationally and regionally, as well as serving as the first Global Messenger of the MENA region and as the Deputy Manager for Egypt’s delegation at the 2nd MENA Regional Games, he is now a teacher at Misr Language School.

With the movement having grown from more than 5.7 million athletes, with unified partners in excess of 726000 across 172 countries, Gallaby has high hopes for extending the reach of the Special Olympics’ awareness-raising activities even further. “Our campaign for the games,” Gaballah tells us, “should have a big impact, especially considering the prominent celebrities that will be involved.”