By EDD K. USMAN
Twitter: @edd1819, Instagram: @bluestar0910, Facebook: SDN — Science, Digital & Current Affair
(SDN) — BEMADALLED athletes of the Special Olympics Philippines, Inc. (SOPI) have expressed their gratitude and thanks to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The SOPI joined the athletes in lauding the Emirati government and its citizens for taking good care of them in a very special way.
This came after what they fondly described as great reception and wonderful experience during the Special Olympics World Games held in March 2019 in Abu Dhabi, the capital and biggest emirate of the UAE federation. SOPI sent 39 Filipino athletes to the World Games.
Comprised of seven Emirates and founded on December 2, 2019, the federation members are Abu Dhabi, Dubai (second biggest), Sharjah, Fujairah, Umm Al-Quwain, Ajman, and Ras Al-Khaimah.
Over 7,000 athletes representing 170 countries competed for medals and honors in the 2019 World Games. It was held in Abu Dhabi under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
On November 6, some of the Filipino athletes who competed in the Special Olympics World Games, accompanied by SOPI National Executive Director Kaye Chastine B. Samson, paid a courtesy call to the UAE envoy to the Philippines, Ambassador Hamad Saeed Al-Zaabi.
The ambassador lauded the Filipino athletes’ participation in the World Games and congratulated them for winning medals in the sporting competition.
“First of all, I would like to express my gratitude and my appreciation for accepting our invitation and allowing us (on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation/and our Embassy’s staff) to share our joys and great happiness as you participated at the Special Olympics 2019 in Abu Dhabi,” Amb. Al-Zaabi said.
The ambassador said he wanted to hear about their experiences in Abu Dhabi on and off the competition.
Recognizing the athletes’ difficulty in traveling from the provinces to come to the Embassy, Amb. Al-Zaabi thanked them for “doing their best” to make the visit and share their experiences. He said he looks forward to seeing them again in another Special Olympics World Games.
Eduardo Enriquez Munarriz, one of the Philippines’ medal-winning Special Olympics athletes for powerlifting, took to the podium.
“We came out of our World Games experience with deepest gratitude for the citizens of UAE. We have no words except ‘thank you’.
“Thank you for showing the world how generosity and compassion should look like. Abu Dhabi will always have a special place in our hearts,” Munarriz, who dreams of being a superhero, said at the reception.
He exuded pride, saying he is “an athlete leader, a future roboticist, and a superhero.”
Munarriz related his and his fellow delegates’ “wonderful experience” at the Abu Dhabi World Games.
“We learned about Emirate culture and ate Emirate cuisine and we met so many people from around the world. I didn’t know the world was big.
“We made memories that would last a lifetime. Emirati hospitality made us feel like rock stars,” the Special Olympics athlete said.
Munarriz added that Abu Dhabi made them feel like they were “on top of the world and that the world is kind, compassionate and has a place for exceptional athletes such as myself and my team .”
After a brief program at the Emirate Embassy in McKinley Hills, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, Metro Manila, the UAE’s top diplomat in the Philippines hosted the visitors to a sumptuous Mediterranean-style food.
Samson, in a later email to SDN — Science and Digital News, expressed SOPI and the athletes’ appreciation of the UAE for its hosting of the largest humanitarian event in the world.
“The Emirati community placed all People of Determination in the limelight, allowing them to show their determination to win in sports and in life,” she said.
The SOPI official described the venues in the Abu Dhabi World Games as world class.
“Our athletes really felt like superstars. The VIP treatment was something we have never experienced before.
“Our experience in the UAE changed our lives, especially our athletes. Most of them have never gone outside the country, let alone travel to Metro Manila from their provinces,” Samson recalled.
She emphasized that SOPI has been participating in the World Games since the 1990s, but none compared to Abu Dhabi’s. “This was the first that we’ve had so many cheerleaders and support (provided by the UAE Filipino community).
Samson also cited Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Hjayceelyn Quintana for her tremendous support, as she welcomed the Philippine Special Olympics delegation and saw them off at the airport in Abu Dhabi.
She said Philippine contingent won three gold medals in athletics, badminton, and futsal; nine silver medals in athletics (two), badminton (two), bocce (one), bowling (one), football (one), and powerlifting (two); and four bronze medals in athletics (one), bowling (one), and powerlifting (one). (SDN)
Updated, Nov. 11, 7:10 a.m., to include medals the athletes won