Team Samoa, the 18 athletes who will represent their country at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi next month, were officially farewelled by sponsors and dignitaries at a ceremony at the Government Building yesterday.
The team will depart next Wednesday for the World Games, which will take place in the United Arab Emirates’ capital from the 14th to the 21st of March.
Along with the 18 athletes, who will be participating in unified football, athletics, bocce and power lifting, six coaches, a medic, and a head and assistant head of delegation will make the trip.
Special Olympics Samoa chairman Leta’a Daniel Devoe will be a part of that contingent, and he said Team Samoa are all ready to go.
“All our athletes are fit, they’re all strong, so all we need to do is get on the plane on Wednesday night and travel to Abu Dhabi.”
The athletes range in age from 16 to 29, and three of the team competed at the previous World Games in Los Angeles in 2015.
Leta’a said they are going again only because of availability.
“The only reason why these three are going is because we couldn’t get other athletes, their parents to release them to go.
“Special Olympics is all about participation.”
He said getting support from parents for these sort of trips was a challenge, but they are getting there.
“You know that mindset that their child is not able to take care of themselves.
“We try to encourage [the parents], assure them [their children] will be taken care of.”
Leta’a said there are a lot of safety precautions to bear in mind, with the team having to travel via plane and being away from home for two weeks.
“And also staying in the hotels.”
That’s why they have booked a sort of practice stay at Hotel Millenia in Mulinu’u this weekend.
“Just to make sure that they know the type of environment that they’ll be in when they get to Abu Dhabi.
“It’s not going to be a village, they’re all staying in five-star hotels, all the athletes.”
Leta’a said the athletes will get a lot out of competing and interacting with the estimated 7500 athletes from 172 countries that will be participating.
He said the Samoan government have also given support to Special Olympics Samoa for them to participate in the upcoming Pacific Games, held here in Samoa in July.
Six countries will compete in unified football at those Games; which Leta’a said is a historical level of inclusion for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
“It’s a first in the world for any international sporting event.”
Yesterday’s farewell was organised by Special Olympics Samoa’s main sponsor Digicel, with other support coming from the Samoa Disability Programme; a joint effort between the Ministry of Women, Community & Social Development and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Education, Sports & Culture, the Light the World Benefit Gala, SIFA, Samoa Gambling Authority, BSL, SSAB, Eveni Carruthers and Blue Bird Construction.