Special Olympics: People of Determination, from athletes to officials

The United Arab Emirates’ aim in hosting this year’s Special Olympics was to make it the most inclusive Games yet – which meant having people with intellectual disabilities, who they have monikered “People of Determination” at all levels of the organisation.

Along with this goal came a project named “Super Program,” which trains People of Determination to become Sport Officials in judo and badminton. The initiative was built in partnership between the SEDRA Foundation, UAE’s Badminton Federation and the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics.

For Thomas McCobb, an English participant of the Super Program, being part of the initiative has been life-changing. He is excited to add his Badminton Official experience to his CV and see it open doors to more professional opportunities in the field. “Maybe I can become a referee in the future,” he told Euronews.

The programme has given young adults such as American Essra Khaled a boost in their confidence in their ability to work in the field. Khaled said: “Maybe in the future, I could be a coach in some other sport, like football.”

The initiative aims to create a programme that could be a precursor for employment and internships for People of Determination after the Special Olympic Games. “We plan to continue doing the work, and scale its impact not only for athletes but for all the intellectually disabled,” Renate Baur-Richter, SEDRA Foundation’s programme manager, told Euronews.

“It was super intense training, and we also looked into effective communication, teamwork, co-operation, and also into creating a sense of responsibility: basic vital life skills,” adds Baur-Richter. As Alaa Ehab from Egypt said: “I feel good about being able to be an Official. I’ve learned to work in a team. Maybe it will be my new job.”

Participants in badminton are working directly with the UAE’s National Badminton Federation. “They know badminton, they know the rules, and they are listed as official referees,” explains Jaafar Sayed, technical director at the UAE Badminton Association.

“Badminton is the fastest racket sport in the world, so it is difficult, but still, here they are.”

Sayed told Euronews that these newly certified sports officials will be coming to the Para-Badminton tournament in Dubai next month. “We are planning to bring them to officiate, for around 300 of the best players in the world.”