The UAE unveiled their biggest squad for the Special Olympics IX MENA Games from March 14 to 23.
The host nation has entered 141 athletes and will take part in every sporting discipline, except tennis, from the 16 competitions that are lined up over the 10 days and eight venues in Abu Dhabi.
The MENA Games has drawn more than 1,000 athletes from 31 countries, and it will serve as a trial for the athletes and local organizing committee for the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.
"In terms of numbers this is the biggest participation from the UAE in any championship or games for the para athletes," said Talal Al Hashemi, Abu Dhabi Sports Council's director of technical affairs.
"We will soon have a tennis team in place in time for the 2019 World Games. Our objective is to participate in all the 23 sporting disciplines at the Games next year."
The UAE team is currently in a two-week preparation camp in Al Ain hosted by the Al Ain Club for Special Needs.
The UAE University, Al Ain Water, Al Ain Equestrian Club and the UAE Cycling Federation have all come forward in support for the Emirati disabled athletes in the UAE national team.
According to Fatima Ibrahim, coordinator for Special Olympics, the MENA Games is a massive undertaking not only for the athletes but the local organisers.
"We are currently working with many partners, including the government and the community, to present a good show and prepare for the 2019 World Games," she said.
The local organizing committee is headed by Sheikha Mariam bint Mohammed bin Zayed, and Shamma Al Mazrouie, chairman of the board of directors.
"They have given us clear directives to make this MENA Games and the 2019 World Games an event to remember for the participants and those travelling with them for these events," said Ibrahim.
"The UAE squad have been training in Al Ain for the last two weeks. It's an event we have taken very seriously as we see it as a trial for the 2019 World Games."
The Emirati female athletes will participate in a few new sporting disciplines in the MENA Games for the first time. They are the women's gymnastics, swimming, roller skating and football.
"We have in our squad who have taken part in both the Paralympics and the World Games, and several for the first time at this level," added Ibrahim.
"As the host, we are taking advantage of the opportunity to field as many as possible. For those taking part for the first time at this level, it indeed will be an experience which they can take forward to next year's World Games."
"The preparation has gone well with a two-week camp in Al Ain. The national federations have come forward to provide us with the technical support and their facilities for our use."
The competitions will be staged at eight different venues: Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, New York University Abu Dhabi, Armed Forces Officers Club, Mubadala Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan International Sports Resorts.
Meanwhile, the contingent from Canada and Ivory Coast will arrive in Al Ain City on Monday.
They will be received by HE Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
The contingent from the two countries will tour the Hazza bin Zayed stadium, the Al Ain Zoo, Al Ain Equestrian and Golf Club and places of interest during their stay at the Garden City. - ends