It feels like a rare occasion when Egyptian individuals do something so truly remarkable that, as one, the country takes immense pride in their achievements. This is such an occasion.
Last month, 68 Egyptian athletes brought home 50 medals from the Special Olympics in Los Angeles. The Egyptian delegation won 13 gold, 20 silver, and 16 bronze medals, participating in aquatics, athletics, basketball, football, tennis, handball and many more.
The Special Olympics delegation was established in 1995; today there are 30,000 Special Olympians in Egypt that participate in over 200 activities annually.
Unfortunately, in keeping with societal discomfort with disability, local media outlets failed to acknowledge the incredible successes of our representatives abroad, choosing instead to focus on Zamalek’s league win.
Egypt’s Special Olympics Delegation is working tirelessly for acknowledgement, resources, and support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Ayman Abdelwahab, MENA’s Special Olympics’ Managing Director was quoted in Egyptian Streets calling for a more inclusive sports environment, ‘I hope the Youth and Sports ministry opens its arms to those athletes, and to compel Egyptian clubs to include them in their activities.’
Undoubtedly, if we aim to capitalise on the success of the Special Olympics 2015 team, these are necessary steps that need to be taken to, not only support potentially world-class athletes, but to also end the stigma and taboo often associated with the cognitively impaired & disabled in Egypt. They shouldn’t be more celebrated abroad than at home.
On a slightly less pessimistic note, the private sector seems to be faring far better in their support of local talent. One of the country’s largest telecom providers, Vodafone, has been supporting the Special Olympics in Egypt since 2003 – funding various projects that seek to support those with special needs in sport.
Hopefully, our Special Olympics success will encourage the powers that be to dedicate more resources to support disabled athletes at home, and will work towards creating an environment with more acceptance for those who are in, any way or form, different.
As Egyptians, we should be proud!