This month’s Special Olympics World Games are a defining moment in what has been declared the Year of Tolerance in the United Arab Emirates. As such, tolerance was the theme of several Opening Ceremony speeches. Special Olympics Chairman, Dr. Timothy Shriver, spoke of his late mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics movement. His speech was at once an emotional testimony to her historic leadership and an urgent call for the world to follow the example of our movement’s current leaders: the athletes of Special Olympics.

 

 

The post-ceremony buzz in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is partly about the star-studded parade of athletes and show stopping music, choreography, technology and special effects. From singer Avril Lavigne and trance DJ Oakenfold to NFL player Jamaal Charles and Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, the A-listers were numerous, notable and gracious. But despite their undeniably glittering presence, the ones who stole the show were the athletes who have been dubbed, “the makers.” Their creative vision and collaboration made this year’s Opening Ceremony one that will long be remembered as one of the best and most Unified in Special Olympics’ history. The organizers of the ceremony were early adopters of Shriver’s message. They listened, they included and the result was awe-inspiring.

 

 

The post-ceremony buzz here in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is partly about the star-studded parade of athletes and show-stopping music, choreography, technology, and special effects. From singer Avril Lavigne and trance DJ Oakenfold to NFL player Jamaal Charles and Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, the A-listers were numerous, notable and gracious. But despite their undeniably glittering presence, the ones who stole the show were the athletes who have been dubbed, “the makers.” Their creative vision and collaboration made this year’s Opening Ceremony one that will long be remembered as one of the best and most Unified in Special Olympics’ history. The organizers of the ceremony were early adopters of Shriver’s message. They listened, they included and the result was awe-inspiring.

As aptly stated by the UAE’s Minister of State for Youth Affairs, Shamma Al Mazrui, we must all learn to be more like our athletes and “see with the eyes of our heart.” In other words, when we zoom in closer to those who are perceived as different and soften our gaze, good things happen.

Both Al Mazrui and Shriver’s speeches struck exactly the same tone—two bold leaders from different cultures, of different genders, from different generations practicing different religions. Yet they both clearly asked us to follow our athletes, the prophets of tolerance, as they show us how to set the world on fire with the Flame of Hope, an open heart and an open mind.

 

 

Check out the procession of the SO USA delegation: