Twenty-seven Israeli athletes with intellectual disabilities competed at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates this week, joining more than 7,000 counterparts from over 170 countries.
The Israeli delegation competed in basketball (nine athletes), bowling (10 athletes), judo (two athletes) and swimming (six athletes) and won four gold medals, six silver medals and nine bronze medals.
The Special Olympics, founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, provides athletic training and competition in Olympic-style sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It’s the largest global integrated sports organization, counting among its members almost 5 million athletes and over 1 million volunteers in 177 countries worldwide.
The 2019 World Games included competitions in fields such as athletics, badminton, cycling, soccer, sailing, tennis and volleyball.
According to Special Olympics Israel, there are some 40,000 people with intellectual disabilities in Israel, while Sports Olympics notes there some 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world.
The thousands of athletes competing in the Abu Dhabi games, the first Special Olympics World Games to be held in the Middle East, were joined by 2,500 coaches and about 20,000 volunteers.
Israel has no diplomatic relations with Abu Dhabi, but Israeli ministers have traveled there in the past on government business. In October 2018, Israeli athletes took part in the International Judo Federation Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, and Israeli gold wins resulted in the Israeli anthem playing for the first time in the Gulf state.