Positive patriotism wins gold at Abu Dhabi Special Olympics

Positive patriotism wins gold at Abu Dhabi Special Olympics

For some nationalism is not a word that has good connotations. But when I see nationalism on the sport’s field, I view that word differently. Sporting stars displaying pride to play for their country, their patriotism motivating them to score points for their team, are positives we can identify and engage with when watching sport. 

The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 being held in the UAE capital provide a perfect example of this. The tournament motto is “Meet the Determined,” and the ability and determination from the more than 7,000 athletes taking part are clear for all to see. 

The great thing was that there was a women’s team from Saudi Arabia for the first time and I made sure I was there to cheer them on. I was really overwhelmed to see our female athletes and people from all around the world in one place for the same purpose, cheering for their countries.

The pride of participating in such an event is amazing and everyone — from students, employees, and volunteers — can join in.

There are several things I have taken away from the Special Olympics. First, the event promoted the positive face of nationalism, cheering on for your country in a fun and peaceful way. Second, it is also a great way to encourage the young to get into sport and try to lead an active and healthy life — exposure is the key, and watching and cheering is definitely part of that. Third, watching “the determined” be active despite any obstacles they may have in life also sends a motivational message to us all, to use what you have and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If they can do it, so can everyone else. 

Sporting stars displaying pride to play for their country, their patriotism motivating them to score points for their team, are positives we can identify and engage with when watching sport.

Dr. Razan Baker

From my many travels across the world I have seen how the host countries of the big sporting events always tend to welcome school children to the stadium. Countries such as China, the UK and Egypt welcome excited boys and girls to the arenas. I believe the younger they attend, the earlier they begin to love sport and start having sporting idols and role models. I hope parents and schools encourage children to attend together, cheer together and have fun together through sport.

Nationalism and patriotism is initially seen in sport through the actions of the athletes — they become ambassadors of their countries. When you wear your country’s flag on your jersey it comes with big responsibility. You no longer represent yourself alone, you also represent your nation and that is a feeling of pride not everyone gets to experience. 

Every act of the athlete counts, and they want it to count positively. Those who do a good job become good role models for their country, highly popular and respected. This respect is not limited to the sporting arena — Saudi Arabian footballing legend Sami Al-Jaber becoming a goodwill ambassador few years ago is a good example of this.

The Special Olympics, and other global sporting events like it, illustrate that there are many ways to be involved in sport and represent your country. You can be there as an athlete, an administrator, a coach, a spectator or a volunteer. 

There are 20,000 volunteers in Abu Dhabi, funding the trip and stay themselves, keen to enable the athletes to have the best experience possible. They create a cultural exchange, proud of their countries but also keen to engage with other nationalities and in doing so support the athletes. That is what I call a noble image of nationalism and positive patriotism. 

  • Dr. Razan Baker is a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Bowling Federation, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist and journalist. Twitter: @RazanBaker
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