The Special Olympics: Revolutionising both event operations and cultural attitudes?

The Special Olympics World Games are set to begin in Abu Dhabi (March 14th to 21st), as the event hits the Middle East for the first time in its history.

This showpiece event for athletes with intellectual disabilities incorporates more than 7,000 competitors from 200 nations, competing in 24 summer sports. The opening ceremony, featuring Avril Lavigne, Paul Oakenfold and others, will be at the Zayed Sports City stadium on Thursday.

Perhaps surprisingly, it has generated incredible excitement and an unprecedented level of engagement across the region. Just glance through their official Twitter account to see how the UAE community is buying into the sport, ethos and spirit of these Games. Already it is clear that the legacy of the Games will be as much about the cultural acceptance of those with disabilities than any infrastructure improvements. Their motto #BeUnified is everywhere and sums it up well.

Peter Ward, of WeTrack, was visiting the area last month to help set up their Incident Management System, which will be used throughout the event.

For those not familiar with the mega events industry, overseeing the command and communications across the games is the Main Operations Centre (MOC) and they can be vast (and often confusing, noisy and counter-productive when problems need resolving).

As seen on the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi social media video, their MOC is a bit different to say the least. Hosted in the ADNEC exhibition and conference arena, here the leadership team has transformed a brand-new co-working space into a state-of-the-art hub for the event’s management. This hi-tech operations centre will oversee the work of more than 20,000 volunteers supporting the competition as well as resolve all strategic problems, questions and decisions that need to be made.

Clayton D’Costa, Director of Planning and Integration, commented, “Under our Managing Director’s vision we have pushed the boundaries of how Main Operations Centres operate. The functional and innovative space will set the tone of how we manage some of our key Games-time issues and communicate across the theatre of operations. We are pleased to have WeTrack as a partner in this respect, providing us with a simple and elegant incident management system which allows everyone to be on point in this state-of-the-art facility.”

Fatmah Alkaabi, a Program Delivery Manager Seconded from Etihad Airways added, “We need to be fine-tuned to the needs of a major event. As a Main Operations Centre Manager, it helps to visually and geographically display our incident management data to ensure we remain coordinated across the Games. WeTrack’s reports provide a self-service solution to interrogating our data and ensure we do not need to rely on clunky spreadsheets and associated pivot table analysis.”

Event Control Room design has generally remained static for many years so it is refreshing to see novel ideas to improving communication in these important command and control hubs.

But more than any specific design and implementation changes, it is uplifting to see a city so passionate about the opportunity to host these Games and raise the bar in a spirit that is true to the movement.

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