ADNEC Special Olympics Case Study


In line with the spirit of the UAE’s “Year of Tolerance,” the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre (ADNEC) hosted the Special Olympics World Games from March 14-21, bringing together participants from over 200 nations to take part in an inclusion-based movement. Constituting the single most successful synthesis of humanitarian work and sports, the World Games regularly draw huge crowds, and 2019 was no exception, in fact it was the largest world games in the 50 year history of the Special Olympics. Throughout the week of the games, ADNEC accommodated no fewer than 7,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches, as well as 300,000 spectators who came to cheer on the participants.

“Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, was both the largest event that the UAE has ever hosted as well as the biggest sports and humanitarian event in the world in 2019.” Dr Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics. 


The host had to be able to accommodate the needs of the athletes, coaches, and spectators. As such, the Games’ organizers were searching for an ideally-situated, large capacity venue that offered good transport; wheelchair accessibility; and services such as catering, cleaning, parking, and security. ADNEC checked all of these boxes. 

ADNEC is located at a distance of only 15 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport and is less than 1.5 hours from Dubai International Airport. The award-winning venue is also a walking distance of numerous three to five-star hotels, offering c.2,000 rooms. In addition to its efficient accessibility and service providers surrounding the site, ADNEC also offers world-class catering through award-winning, in-house caterer, Capital Hospitality via a variety of restaurants, cafes and food trucks, which served the thousands of visitors during the Games. Every floor within the complex is accessible by ramps or elevators, as are several parking bays. Optimal navigability allows all guests to feel welcome on the premises. 


Tasked with hosting 11 different categories—the most for any location in the 2019 Games—ADNEC provided venues for games ranging from basketball to judo. Before, during, and after the Games, both event planning and in-house event production, ADNEC Services dedicated staff members were involved in pre-rigging and mark out; creating a staging area for trucks; coordinating pre-contractual access to the event site; providing 24-hour build and breakdown at no additional cost; facilitating access to the CAD team; and accommodating last-minute branding requests.

The Games took over all 12 halls at ADNEC with additional temporary structures erected around the venue to accommodate specialist sports such as Bocce and powerlifting at the Grandstand area and an athlete dining area for 1,440 was created in the central car parking area. 

Halls 1 and 2 were used as the vital heart of the Games, ‘Healthy Athletes’. This is where athletes were assessed for their ability to compete in the game. Each of the 7,000 athletes were provided free, full health screening services, education and access to medical equipment and professionals who specialise in treating those with intellectual difficulties. One athlete from Senegal for example, was able to hear for the first time aged 32 when provided with an in-ear device. 

Conference Room A and B were converted into podium areas for the awards ceremonies. 

ADNEC further supported the World Games through various internal campaigns, mail drops, social media posts, website advertising and staged a festival area activation run by ADNEC staff volunteers, thus amplifying the message of inclusion. The Atrium and concourse areas were used as a festival area with interactive stands and activities for all participants including competitors and fans. Free super-fast Wi-Fi at the venue enabled athletes and fans to both share their experiences on social platforms and stay in touch with loved ones around the world, further promoting the sense of inclusion globally. 

Additionally, ADNEC’s own planning team coordinated with the Special Olympics’ employees and management to ensure the smooth execution of every competition, award ceremony and related events. The pre-planning process started back in 2016. Throughout the Games, ADNEC provided a comfortable space in which “people of determination,” their coaches, and fans could compete and participate in cross-cultural exchange. 


Sanjay Sahota, Operations Director of the Special Olympics World Games 2019, was impressed by what ADNEC both offered and delivered. Specifically, he praised ADNEC for its ample space, superb location, accommodating staff, prompt cooperation, flexibility, and delivery of urgent requests, calling the partnership with ADNEC a “very good experience.” In thanking ADNEC he said “Please accept our sincerest thanks for the invaluable support provided by you and your team during our Special Olympics World Games 2019 Journey. Your efforts contributed substantially to the success of the Games and your unlimited cooperation has made all of the difference”.

Mr. Sahota was not alone in his praise ADNEC’s hosting capabilities. In a similar vein, Tala Al Ramahi, Chief strategy Officer of the Special Olympics World Games 2019, expounded on why ADNEC was one of the first venues she and her colleagues turned to, citing “world class facilities” and willingness “to do anything it takes to make sure that these games were successful for everyone involved.” She summarised her experience working with ADNEC by noting that, “We couldn’t have run these Games without the support of ADNEC and having a world class facility like this [in which] to run our competitions.”

Furthermore, ADNEC Group were awarded a certificate of appreciation by Peter Wheeler, CEO of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi.

ADNEC Group CEO, Humaid Mater Al Dhaheri said “we are proud to have successfully partnered with the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Throughout the event, we actively highlighted the readiness of our facilities to host such a high-profile international event”.