The Special Olympics Pan-African Games is making its debut. From 23-31 January, the event will be held in Cairo under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. It will be hosted jointly by the Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa Region (SO MENA) and Special Olympics Africa, marking the first time that two Special Olympics regions have joined forces to create a combined Games.
Nearly 800 athletes representing 42 African countries will show their talents and compete in basketball, bocci, football and athletics at two venues: Cairo Stadium and 30 June Stadium. The latter will also host the opening ceremony with President Al-Sisi in attendance.
President A-Sisi is well known for paying special attention to people with intellectual disabilities to the extent that he named 2018 the Year of Disability. He also attended the opening ceremony of the eighth Special Olympics MENA Regional Games held in Cairo in 2014, just a few months after he took over as Egypt’s president.
“We stunned the world by hosting the first ever World Games in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi in March 2019, and we continue to achieve the impossible,” Regional President and Managing Director of SO MENA Ayman Abdel-Wahab said. “We are re-writing history with a series of firsts: the first ever Pan-African Games, the first Games with 50 per cent female participation and the first ever unity of two regions,” Abdel-Wahab added.
The mission of the Pan-African Games is to provide a high quality sports experience, and engage key influencers and communities to help create positive attitudes and bring about permanent change towards the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities throughout the African continent.
The Games encompass a series of non-sports events alongside the Games, including Healthy Athletes medical screening, Youth Leadership Summit, Young Athletes and Motor Activity Training Program (MATP).
Regional President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Africa Charles Nyambe expressed his delight at the support for these historic Games. “This is monumental, a great opportunity for athletes in Africa to showcase their skills and personal best at a continental event. A once in a lifetime opportunity for some. The entire leadership of Special Olympics is very excited for us and looking forward to the Games, including the CEO Mary Davis and several other leaders who will be attending.”
“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the government of Egypt and the Local Organising Committee for opening their hearts by welcoming our athletes, giving them continuing opportunities to develop, and show the world the perfect example of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance,” Nyambe said.
For the first time in the history of the Special Olympics, the Pan-African Games will enjoy full gender equality, with 50-50 male and female athletes. Special Olympics Africa and MENA want this effort to accelerate national commitments for fully inclusive societies.
Hani Mahmoud, Special Olympics Egypt president, said “our athletes are well prepared for the Games”.
Mahmoud said he was very excited at the idea of Egypt hosting the first Pan-African Special Olympics especially that the event is under the patronage of President Al-Sisi.
“Each Egyptian should be proud that his country is hosting such a special event,” Mahmoud said. “Special Olympics Egypt athletes are competing in the Games with 125 athletes in the four sports. They have started their training camps as they are aiming at collecting the largest amount of medals like in the 2019 World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi when they returned victorious with 82 medals.”
SO Egypt athlete in shot put competitions
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Youth and Sports volunteers committee headed by Eman Othman, the minister’s office manager for selecting the Special Olympics volunteers, was inundated with over 1,000 volunteers who were interviewed over three days. The volunteers were chosen according to special specifications and the languages they know to cover all the committees of the Games.
Both Abdel-Wahab and Nyambe attended part of the last-day interviews and Sherif Abul-Enien, head of the volunteers committee, explained to them how the work was progressing, from personal interviews to the measures designed for choosing the volunteers which included full command of two languages in addition to previous experiences and personal skills.
After the volunteers were chosen, they were asked to attend a meeting where Emad Mohieddin SO MENA sports and training director in addition to Sherif Al-Foli, SO MENA competitions director, delivered a presentation on the Special Olympics movement since its launching in 1968 and its various stages of development. Volunteers were then divided into committees where each head of committee explained the roles of each and every volunteer.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.