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Abu Dhabi hosts the Middle East's first Special Olympics World Games

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By Ana De Oliva  & Rosie-Lyse Thompson
Abu Dhabi hosts the Middle East's first Special Olympics World Games

The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi kicked off on Thursday to a sold-out crowd.

For the first time, the global sports event dedicated to people with intellectual disabilities is being held in the Middle East.

Cheering and waving, around 7,500 athletes representing 195 countries took part in a 90-minute-long parade in the capital’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.

Musicians including Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne and Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi, famous for the 2017 hit "Despacito", performed live at the opening ceremony.

Alongside international artists, Emirati musician, Hussain Al Jassmi sang to a crowd of over 40,000 people.

Crowds celebrate during the Special Olympics opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi

The "Flame of Hope" torch arrived at Abu Dhabi’s main stadium, after touching down in the seven Emirates, to mark the opening of the games.

As many as 24 Olympic sports competitions will be carried out over a period of seven days, across nine venues in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The UAE officially uses the term "people of determination" to describe those with learning disabilities.

The phrase was introduced in April 2017 by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as part of the national strategy to empower people with disabilities.

Ahead of the World Games, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan took to Twitter to highlight the importance of global mobilisation towards this goal.

Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics International, adopted the "people of determination" terminology to speak about the significance of the event ahead of its opening.

“As we kick off the World Games, we can celebrate the fact that our movement has made progress in the 50 years since Special Olympics was founded. 

"The difference today is that this is a movement by people of determination for people of determination and for everyone else,” she said in a press conference earlier this week.

Around 200 million people worldwide have a learning disability, according to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.