“We as women have this beautiful opportunity to play for our country and for ourselves.”

This week sees the Special Olympics regional games come to Abu Dhabi, and there will be more women competing than ever before.

A full 40 per cent of athletes at the ninth MENA event will be women, organisers say.

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The event kicks off on March 14 and runs through to March 23. It will host 429 sportswomen from 31 countries competing across 16 codes.

That represents the highest proportion of women yet at the MENA regional games, up from 215 at the last event in Cairo.


Houriya Taheri, who coaches the UAE women’s football team, says that everyone should be behind the Special Olympics.

“People with intellectual disabilities are achieving so much and they should be recognized and supported,” she said.

“We as women have this beautiful opportunity to play for our country and for ourselves,” the Special Olympics ambassador continued.

“Despite all the stereotypes and old family traditions, we can still be part of positive change.”

The regional games come ahead of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games, set to be the biggest sports and humanitarian event of the year. Seven thousand athletes from around the world are expected to compete.

This year’s event will host 1,000 competitors at venues across Abu Dhabi, with 141 of them representing the UAE. Of that number, 64 are women.

The first Special Olympics were held in Chicago in 1968. Since then the program has spread across the world.

With an emphasis on inclusion, the 2019 event will also see unified events where people with and without intellectual disabilities compete together.

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