Princess Reema leads Saudi delegation to Abu Dhabi event marking 100-day countdown to Special Olympics

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Saudi Arabia is sending 51 athletes to compete in the event, the first to be held in the MENA region. (Blue Cam Photography)
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Saudi Arabia is sending 51 athletes to compete in the event, the first to be held in the MENA region. (Blue Cam Photography)
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Saudi Arabia is sending 51 athletes to compete in the event, the first to be held in the MENA region. (Blue Cam Photography)
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Updated 06 December 2018
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Princess Reema leads Saudi delegation to Abu Dhabi event marking 100-day countdown to Special Olympics

  • Saudi Arabia is sending 51 athletes to compete in the event, the first to be held in the MENA region
  • Event is a 'wonderful opportunity' to celebrate our athletes,' says the deputy of planning and development for the General Sports Authority

ABU DHABI: Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud led a delegation of athletes from Saudi Arabia to the UAE as the 100-day countdown to the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 – the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world – officially began on Tuesday.
More than 7,500 athletes from 192 nations will compete in the 2019 World Games – the first to be held in the MENA region – next March. Ahead of the landmark event, Princess Reema, speaking exclusively to Arab News, said that Saudi Arabia’s strong commitment to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will mean the Kingdom will continue to focus on absorbing into society people regardless of ability.
“The Agenda for Sustainable Development pledges to ‘leave no one behind,’ but the fact is, by virtue of our heritage, the Middle East has always been an inclusive society,” said Princess Reema, the deputy of planning and development for the General Sports Authority(GSA). “The Special Olympics is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our athletes and to come together as a community.”
Sara Ahmed Felemban of Jeddah is eagerly awaiting her chance to shine at the World Games. The 17-year-old will be part of a 51-strong team of athletes from Saudi Arabia who will be landing in the UAE capital next March to show off their skills in a range of sporting competitions – and represent their country to the best of their ability.

A student at Saudi Arabia’s Help Center, a non-profit organization committed to enhancing the quality of life of individuals with intellectual disabilities, Sara was born with Down Syndrome.
“It was evident from birth,” said her mother, Bridget Somers, who spoke of her pride at her daughter’s hard work and dedication to practice ahead of the 2019 event.
Sara, who will be competing in Bocce at the World Games, said she feels honored to be representing the Kingdom on the world sporting stage.
“I am very proud and I am practicing every day,” she said. “I am happy and very excited.”
The teenager has dreams of clutching a gold medal on the podium. “I hope. I hope. That would be great.”

Athletes from around the world are set to descend on Abu Dhabi in March to show-off their sporting skills. (Blue Cam Photography)

Her teammate Maan Al-Zaid, a 25-year-old from Al-Jouf region, also with Down Syndrome, is preparing himself for the basketball competitions of the Games.
“First of all, I would love to participate in all sports. I am very proud to be Saudi. I think all Saudis as champions. We are working very hard and we are working more and more to get positive results.”
And does Al-Zaid hope to also win a medal? “More than one. Definitely more than one!“
Dr. Heidi Alaudeen Alaskary, director of diversity and inclusion and partnerships at Saudi Arabia’s GSA, said the Kingdom has set up a dedicated training camp in Saudi Arabia for the team.
“We are very, very excited about our participation next March. We have a delegation across a number of different sports, be it basketball, swimming, track and field, roller-skating,” Alaskary said.
“It is a very diverse group. The overall delegation is very big too. It is not only that we are sending athletes and coaches, we are sending a number of our volunteers here to support the UAE. They include sending volunteers such as speech therapists to help support the health programs in the UAE.”
Alaskary said including those with disabilities into society has always been a key focus of decision-makers within the Kingdom. “It is very important to realize it has always been about the community, and in order for the community to shine we need to take care of all individuals; whether they are elderly, or young, whether they are able or a person with a disability; whether they are female and male – everyone is part of our community,” she said.
“And it is critical for us that for our country to thrive we have to include everyone. Ten years ago, in 2008, we signed the United Nations ratification on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and we are constantly developing and modifying the programs to support those with disabilities in the country.
“I think you can expect to see a whole spectrum of more programs going forward.”
Alaskary said of about 20 million people living in Saudi Arabia, about 1.7 million have self-declared as having either a physical or intellectual disability.
The Saudi Arabia Special Olympics delegation visited Abu Dhabi on Tuesday as part of the World Games Unified Summit to mark 100 days until the World Games, which aims to encourage people with disabilities – or “People of Determination” – into sport.
During the event, key findings of the first in-depth study examining perceptions of people with intellectual disabilities across the MENA region were revealed.
It found that about two thirds (65 percent) of those living across the Middle East and North Africa state that they are aware of government initiatives on disability, but less than half (46 percent) believe governments are highly supportive of those with disabilities.
Based on public-opinion surveys in eight countries – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco – the study also revealed that the vast majority of people in MENA believe that people with intellectual disabilities can perform in sport. However, they are more likely to believe that they can only play as part of a team comprised of players with intellectual disabilities.

While almost eight out of 10 people (78 percent) surveyed believed that people with intellectual disabilities can form friendships with people without intellectual disabilities, less than two-thirds (62 percent) thought that those with intellectual disabilities can understand news and events around them, half (55 percent) felt they could make their own decisions, and slightly more than a third (39 percent) believed those with intellectual disabilities could handle an emergency situation.
While the full study – commissioned by the Local Organizing Committee of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 and Special Olympics MENA to get a better understanding of community attitudes toward disability – will be revealed in March next year to coincide with the Special Olympics World Games, key findings were previewed at the World Games Unified Summit.
At the event Reem Al-Hashemi, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation, announced that 22 new nations have signed up for the upcoming World Games, taking the total number of programs participating to its highest ever at 192. Mohammed Abdulla Al-Junaibi, chairman of the higher committee of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, said the announcement means the Special Olympics programs “will now be accessible to thousands of people who may not have previously had access to sports opportunities. These opportunities will aid them in building courage and confidence, forging new friendships and experiencing joy.”
Dr. Sultan Al-Jaber, UAE Minister of State and CEO of ADNOC Group, said the “courage of the participating athletes will reflect the unity and inclusion that define the Special Olympics movement and are in fact a mirror image of the values of the UAE,” while Shamma bint Suhail bin Faris Al-Mazrui, UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs, said “through the power of sport, community and collaboration, the Special Olympics offers the world one of the most powerful stories of inclusion.”

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THE NUMBERS

100: Days until the Special Olympics World Games takes center stage in Abu Dhabi

192: Countries that will represented in the Games – a record number

14: Days that Special Olympic events will run for

7: Days of sporting events during the 2019 World Games

24: Officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports that will take place in world-class venues throughout Abu Dhabi

7,500: Athletes set to compete 

3,000: Coaches training athletes ahead of the event

20,000: Volunteers needed for the Games

400,000: Fans expected to cheer on competitors during the Games

50: Years the Special Olympics have been running

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In the UAE, Clari Lehmkuhl, 28, will be the sole female tennis player representing her country. “I am very, very excited. I practice every single day at Zayed Sports City and I hope to do my country proud. I am hoping for gold.”
Gabrielle Snowden, 27, is the UAE’s female representative for golf. “I am very excited. I want to win, but mainly I just want to make lots of new friends.”
Chaica Sultan Al-Qasimi, a member of the UAE’s SEDRA Legacy Project for the Special Olympics and a black belt in karate, said the World Games will welcome the world to the UAE and the Middle East and “showcase the best in the human spirit.”
“As someone who loves sports and loves my home and country, I am deeply happy that the World Games will be hosted here in the UAE,” said Al-Qasimi, who has Down Syndrome and practices martial arts, kickboxing, Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu.
“I am honored to have been selected from to participate in the World Games next year. It is an incredible opportunity to show the world we are a unified nation that believes in equal opportunities for all.
“Ever since I discovered I have Down Syndrome, I never saw myself as someone with a disability. I want to share the message with the world that people of determination can achieve anything they want to in life.”
The World Games feature more than a week of grueling competition among thousands of athletes. Through media coverage of the Games, the stories and achievements of athletes are seen by millions of people worldwide. It will take place from March 14-16, 2019.


Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

Updated 16 February 2019
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Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

  • Descendants of Indian immigrants carry banner for Uruguay in the cricket field

MONTEVIDEO: Every Sunday, close to a statue of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, a group of Indian ex-pats take over a patch of land in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo for a game of cricket.
Tucked in between the Rio de la Plata estuary and the long promenade known as the “rambla” that stretches from one side of Montevideo to the other, Avijit Mukherjee prepares to bat, watched eagerly by his Uruguayan girlfriend.
“I played in my country but with a lot more infrastructure,” said the 28-year-old Mukherjee, whose girlfriend Veronica is the main reason he has stayed in Uruguay.
“There are stadiums and many places to play in India, whereas here we only have one.”
Although cricket was first played in Montevideo by British expat workers even before the foundation of the independent republic in 1828, its practice died out in the 1980s.
But following an influx of Indian immigrants to Uruguay at the turn of the century, cricket steadily returned to Montevideo.
First there were one-off matches. Then, the players organized their own league and even set up a Uruguayan national team.
At the end of last year, Uruguay, whose team was made up almost entirely of Indian expats, finished second in the South American championships in Colombia.
While the cricketers are now established on their little patch of land, their initial appearance was not entirely welcomed by local footballers playing on an adjacent pitch.
“We came like spiders and rebuked them,” recalls Daniel Mosco, a local resident who has been playing football in that field for 30 years.
The issue was quickly resolved, though, and the cricketers agreed to start playing only once the football matches had finished.
With no fixed cricket markings, players use flour to draw white lines.
Now, bat can be heard crashing against ball until sunset.
Even though they’ve been here for years, the shouts of “howzat!” and “wait on” still elicit glances from locals making their way along the rambla.
They make a curious spectacle for people little accustomed with either cricket or India.
Mosco, for one, was surprised that the players speak to each other in English.
And there’s another surprise in the form of 29-year-old doctor Saied Muhammad Asif Raza: he’s from Pakistan.
“Between the governments and in (professional) cricket there are always problems, but the people get on really well and within the team the are no problems whatsoever,” said Asif.
He left his home town of Multan, 10 hours from Islamabad, at 19 and moved to Cuba thanks to a Fidel Castro scholarship.
After returning home, he found he couldn’t readapt to his own culture.
“I didn’t come here to find a better life economically, I had a better life in my country because in my family we didn’t lack for anything,” said Asif.
“The thing is that when you live many years away, nowhere is home, and cricket brings me close to it.”
Although now at home on their small patch, finding something more permanent is crucial to Montevideo’s cricketers.
“We’re looking for a permanent ground,” Beerbal Maniyattukudy, the Uruguayan cricket association’s secretary, told AFP.
“We have 120 players this year. On top of that we’re starting some women’s teams and for now we have 20 people interested. We also have plans for an under-15s league.”
The solution may lie with Uruguay’s most popular football team: Penarol.
Penarol started life as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club (CURCC), founded by British railway workers in 1891.
It was a multisport club — but just over 20 years later, its football section broke off and was absorbed by a newly created team, Penarol.
The original club’s cricket section disappeared as football became the main focus — but it was relaunched a week ago.
And crucially, Penarol are planning to build a cricket pitch an hour outside Montevideo.
“When we raised the idea of cricket, there wasn’t much to sort out; everyone was aware of what it meant to the history of the club, we just needed to work out how to make it happen,” said Leonardo Vinas, who is heading up the project.
While many club members signed up to be involved, very few have ever played cricket.
Vinas says the project will take time, not just to spread interest in the sport, but also for the club’s staff to get their heads around the rules of the game.
“Even now, we’re still not clear about certain rules.”