Special Olympics South Africa are expecting a vast improvement in 2019 from the 71 athletes its sending to this year’s World Games in the United Arab Emirates. The team will leave Thursday evening after an official send-off function held in Johannesburg.
Team South Africa won more than 60 medals, 15 gold, at the last edition held in Los Angeles in 2015.
The Games cater for the intellectually impaired, aiming to give them opportunities to realise their potential.
7 500 athletes from over 180 nations will compete at the Games in 2019.
The team will spend almost a week in the Middle East to try and acclimatise to the local conditions. Athletes who have been preparing for the past two months, held their final three day camp at the Parktown Boys High School in Johannesburg.
Fantastic send off for the @SO_SouthAfrica team today at @PARKTOWN_BOYS as they travel to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.
Wishing you all the very best of luck and hope you can bring home those pic.twitter.com/IMZrsnCNqN
— Dean Furman (@de4no22) March 7, 2019
Mathews Phosa, Special Olympics South Africa Chairperson, has thanked South Africans for supporting the team.
“To put 71 people on a plane is with tutors, and supporters, and coaches, and in some cases parents; is not a small feat so we thank the nation for supporting this team. We look forward to more medals, gold and all other categories they will not let us down, they will make us proud.”
Special Olympics South Africa Chief Executive Ancilla Smith says that the athletes will try to improve from the previous World Games performance.
“The expectations are from the last two World Games, we’ve always brought back more medals than we’ve sent athletes so we are hoping that we don’t break our record and we will certainly be bringing a lot of medals from this one. We’ve got 15 gold at the last games we will try and beat that for these games.”
Several weeks ago, the cash strapped organisation pleaded with the business sector to assist in making sure a strong team is sent to the 2019 Games and the response to #AdoptAnAthlete was overwhelming.
Smith says they will make sure that no athletes are left behind.
“We still have the budgetary constraints, but we will not leave an athlete behind so we’ve made a plan. We’ve streamed and saved, we will worry about them when we get back. What now we want to make sure every single one of our athletes goes there and has the opportunity that they worked so hard for.”
It’s 50 years since the inaugural Special Olympics, and for that reason 2019’s event will be biggest ever and will be held in the Middle East for the very first time.
Mahash Saeed, UAE Ambassador to South Africa, says that the athletes will be welcomed to the United Arab Emirates as it is an open country.
“United Arab Emirates is an open country, we will welcome them from the time they land until the time they leave. I think they will enjoy the United Arab Emirates environment and culture.”
The Games will run from the 14-21 March.
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