The Air Forces Hall which hosted the Special Olympics 1st Pan African Games closing ceremony was full of applause and cheers as three Special Olympics athletes took off their gold medals from around their necks to adorn Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi and Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Kabbaj, together with actor Hussein Fahmi, the SO Middle East and North Africa (MENA) ambassador. The players said that Egypt “had done everything for their sake, so this is how we should be grateful to the Egyptian government and supporters” for hosting their first ever Pan African Games.
In the main, though, SO MENA and SO Africa Special Olympics athletes were exuberant at the sight of their gold medals at the Games which was held under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who is also head of the African Union. The tournament included five-a-side soccer, bocci, athletics and basketball.
“It was the best honour I have ever received because it came from a Special Olympics athlete,” Fahmi said. “It was such a heart rendering scene,” he added, saying he felt that they did this out of their love for him which he much appreciated.
After the national anthem, a video of the opening ceremony was shown, then Emad Mohieddin, Local Organising Committee member, presented a number of statistics about the Games and related information concerning the number of participants and an overview of the number of medal winners in the four sports. Mohieddin also gave a briefing on all the initiatives that took place alongside the Games, including Young Athletes that had 50 participants, the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP) with its 17 players, Healthy Athletes and Youth Leadership. A video from the field showed matches that were played. Sherif Abu El enein, who headed the volunteers committee, spoke about the role of volunteers during the Games.
SO Africa President and Managing Director Charles Nyambe thanked Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for patronising the Games and the Egyptian people for their warmth and help. Nyambe added that African delegates were “excited after the Games as they enjoyed themselves very much, in addition to gaining a positive energy that will push them to prepare for their second Pan African Games as soon as they go back to their homeland”.
Ministers Sobhi and Al-Kabbaj announced the closing of the Games as the tournament’s flag was lowered and handed to SO Rwanda which will host the 2nd Pan African Games.
Earlier, the participants in Egypt visited the Giza Plateau, site of the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure, along with their associated pyramid complexes, and the Great Sphinx of Giza. All were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt.
On the sidelines of the Games, MATP held its activities at Cairo Stadium’s indoor halls. MATP is designed for athletes who are unable to participate in official Special Olympics sports competitions because of their skill and/or functional abilities. The programme is designed to prepare athletes -- including those with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and significant physical disabilities -- for sport-specific activities appropriate for their ability levels.
In the tournament, Egypt garnered 34 medals: five gold, 12 silver and 17 bronze. In basketball, the men claimed the silver with one other silver for the women’s team and two gold medals for the unified men and women’s teams.
In bocce, in the women’s single, Egypt captured three silver medals and three bronze. The men’s teams won two silver medals. In the men’s doubles, Egypt collected a bronze medal while the women’s doubles won one silver and one bronze.
Egypt’s women took the gold medal in the final of five-a-aside soccer after blanking South Africa 3-0. Team captain Aliaa Shoukri scored twice while Bassant Abdel-Aziz added the third. Egypt men’s team collected the silver after losing to Morocco.
In men’s athletics, Egypt picked up two gold medals, two silver and five bronze while the women’s team came up with one gold, one silver and six bronze medals.
“What happened in the Games wrote a new page in the history of the Special Olympics movement,” SO MENA President and Managing Director Ayman Abdel-Wahab said. “We hosted an eight-day event and it was a marvelous one as we did all of this in so little time. I thank all that supported us in these Games.”
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and activities to five million participants and Unified Sports partners in 172 countries.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.