Al-Sisi was awarded the highest honour accorded by the International Special Olympics
The International Special Olympics Committee recently granted Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi the organisation’s international award, its most prestigious honour granted to kings and presidents supporting people with special needs.
“The international award of the Special Olympics reflects the appreciation of Egypt’s unremitting efforts in embodying the humanitarian message toward people of determination,” Al-Sisi said.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and activities to five million participants and Unified Sports partners in 172 countries.
Al-Sisi voiced deep appreciation and gratitude for the award, saying it reflected Egypt’s efforts in embodying the humanitarian message toward the people of determination, presidential spokesman Bassem Radi said.
The Special Olympics committee consisted of seven regional presidents: Ayman Abdel-Wahab (Middle East and North Africa region), Charles Nayambi, (Africa), Claudia Echeverry (Latin America), David Evangelista (Europe), Dipak Natali (Asia Pacific), Freda Fung (East Asia and China), and Greg Epperson (North America) in addition to Shawn Ferguson, chief of staff and government relations at the Special Olympics.
Involved in the process was Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Kabbag.
“The committee members were amazed by their meeting with President Al-Sisi and how he is very religious and cares a lot about people with intellectual disabilities,” Abdel-Wahab said. “We were scheduled a 15-minute meeting and it extended to 90 minutes. His excellency discussed a number of issues including Egypt’s agreement to join the Special Olympics Global Coalition and also the new programmes of inclusion in schools not integration in education as the latter started in Egypt back in 2008 but more towards the students inclusion in community and the society. We will start holding sports events in able-bodied schools and we will have teams of unified players with and without intellectual disabilities.”
Abdel-Wahab added that Al-Sisi had agreed on Egypt’s hosting one of the major of the International Games for Special Olympics in 2024. He said Nayambi thanked President Al-Sisi for hosting the first Special Olympics Pan African Games in 2020 “and the great warmth and welcome atmosphere all the athletes experienced in Egypt”.
After the encounter, Ferguson called it one of the best meetings he had ever attended and that Egypt was one of the best countries in the world. He said people with intellectual disabilities were “lucky” to have a president like Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi “who is always putting them in his priorities, like the number of new laws issued to make their lives easier, in addition to naming 2018 a year for disability”.
Abdel-Wahab also announced that Egypt had joined the Special Olympics Unified Champions Schools programmes aimed at promoting social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change “which allows our athletes with intellectual disabilities to join their peers and friends in a sports day at least twice a year”. He said this would help in including people with intellectual disabilities more into their societies and communities not only in education but in the different aspects of life.
The programme is designed to be woven into the fabric of the school, enhancing current efforts and providing rich opportunities that lead to meaningful change in creating a socially inclusive school that supports and engages all learners.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.