The Special Olympics unified team that nearly made it to the FIBA 3x3 World Tour

29 Oct 2021

ABU DHABI (UAE) - This is the story of the Special Olympics UAE’s Unified 3x3 Basketball team that qualified to the last stage of the Abu Dhabi 3x3 Quest Final and made it all the way to the quarter-finals.

In the lead up to the FIBA 3x3 World Tour's much anticipated return to the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council hosted a series of tournaments, which would grant the last ticket to the Abu Dhabi Masters, which takes place on October 29-30.

For the first stop, on Al Hudayriyat Island on October 8, a team stole the show. The Special Olympics UAE’s Unified 3x3 Basketball team won three matches out of four. It was the only team with People of Determination with intellectual disabilities to compete in the tournament. By virtue of finishing 4th, the team featuring two people of determination (the sharpshooter Butti Al Sheezawi and the athletic Saeed Al Suwaidi) and two unified partners (Albert Zeinoun and Mohamed Ismail), qualified for the grand finale, which qualified a team to the World Tour.

One of the main pathways through which Special Olympics UAE champions social inclusions is Unified Sports program. Holding sports competitions and shared sports training with People of Determination with intellectual and developmental disabilities alongside their peers and Unified Partners, as one team, in individual or team sports builds team spirit, friendship and understanding, while breaking down stereotypes. Unified partners are participating teammates in training and competition that help foster inclusion, active participation, and acceptance.

Special Olympics's values are shared by FIBA. The FIBA Foundation has partnered with them to promote inclusion worldwide using 3x3 and Mini Basketball.

Special Olympics UAE uses the power of sports in hosting training opportunities and competitions through the following summer and winter sports.

Butti Al Sheezawi, 35, a Special Olympics UAE Athlete from Al Ain Club for People of Determination and a member of the qualifying Unified Team said: "The vibe is great and we are happy to be back playing sports in person."

"Basketball is one of the important sports for Athletes in the Special Olympics UAE and we are preparing to participate in the Summer World Games in Berlin 2023."

Albert Zeinoun, a 25-year-old Lebanese player with JAM Sports Academy and a Unified Partner said: "This participation is my first with the Special Olympics UAE team and I am pleased with the spirit that brought together team members with and without intellectual disabilities together, to play as one team among many teams from different nationalities."

At the final, the team upset the number one seed and won a second game by 6. Sadly they had lost their opener by just two points against the team, which ended up second in the entire competition. The Special Olympics UAE’s Unified 3x3 Basketball team finished fifth overall and did not get the ticket to the World Tour to play against the Olympic medalists of Team Riga, Gagarin, Ub and Liman. This said, they accomplished a lot more in the promotion of the Special Olympics and the talent of athletes with intellectual disabilities and their unified partners.