The opening ceremony of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 on Thursday night was an internationally star-studded affair, with Avril Lavigne, Tamer Hosny, Luis Fonsi, Hussain al Jassmi all giving heartfelt performances. 

The pre-show featured a strong appearance from Now United, a pop group of 14 16-20-year-olds from Brazil, the Philippines, Senegal and India, while Emirati DJ Bliss got the crowd pumped for the countdown to the start of the opening ceremony.

The first performance was called Woven World, symbolising that everyone is connected, regardless of their physical or mental ability. It featured children of determination performing alongside a video showing athletes coming together with the message that everyone is united.

Legendary DJ Paul Oakenfold took to the stage to accompany the athlete’s parade, playing an impressive hour and a half set that introduced the more than 7,500 athletes from the more than 190 nations and territories competing.

After the raising of the UAE and Special Olympics flags, Canadian Sk8ter Boi singer Ms Lavigne was joined on stage by Mr Fonsi, singer of summer anthem Despecito, and a little later by Mr al Jassmi, the Emirati singer of Bawada’ak. 

The rousing last performance was of the Special Olympics anthem, Right Where I’m Supposed To Be, with a simple pop melody and lyrics in both Arabic and English. The song was created by a conglomeration of music stars and producers, including Grammy Award-winners Quincy Jones and song writer Greg Wells.

Like many sporting anthems the song is catchy, motivating and uplifting — the perfect Special Olympics anthem. And it was a fitting final note to the opening ceremony, although with the performance kept short due to scheduling issues we perhaps would have just like to see more of it. 

As the ceremony drew to a close, the stadium lit up under a rain of fireworks, with the LED bracelets dotted around the crowd making it an emotional moment. A great way to tee-off a much-anticipated week of grit and determination.