Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver Visits NYU Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi.

Special Olympics: We Win

NYUAD hosts a part of MENA Regional Games, joins the UAE in spreading the message of inclusion.

From March 16 to 20, NYU Abu Dhabi was one of the four venues that hosted the Special Olympics MENA Regional Games. More than 400 athletes and coaches came on campus, fully joining our community for this brief period of time. In March 2019, NYUAD will once again be a center of inclusion as campus will be one of the four sport venues for the Special Olympics World Summer Games for athletes from over 120 countries.
Athletes from more than 30 countries competed in track and field, powerlifting and swimming competitions on campus. The Games were also an important event for solidifying the UAE’s commitment to an alternative label for those with special needs: people of determination. The new term was launched in April 2017, after NYUAD Assistant Dean of Students Aisha Al Naqbi contacted the office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, explaining how “people of determination” better reflected the government’s support for people with special needs.
As part of the MENA Regional Games, the university also hosted ambassadors for Special Olympics, American athletes Ibtihaj Muhammad and Michelle Kwan. Muhammad and Kwan spoke to the UAE team and students about the importance of diversity in sports. Muhammad reflected on her experience as an African-American Muslim woman, and the discrimination she faced growing up in New Jersey.
“I know what it feels like to not have a seat at the table and there are challenges that you face in even in believing in yourself. I love the hashtag of the World Games: here to participate. That’s what sports are about,” observed Mohammad.
Kwan, who served as a public diplomacy ambassador, talked about sports as a tool for positive change in diplomacy.
“When athletes represent their countries at the opening ceremony, it is coming together through diplomacy. It is soft power,” said Kwan.
The Games officially concluded at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre on March 22, with the traditional extinguishing of the Flame of Hope and lowering of the Special Olympics flag.
Kristina Stanković is Editor-in-chief. Email her at
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