The countdown is well and truly on for the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi and competing countries are getting out of the blocks early ahead of the big event.
The Iraqi team of 87 athletes is its most representative team in years.Due to conflict in the country, only athletes from Basra have taken part in recent Special Olympics events - but it will be all change in Abu Dhabi.
Delegations from more than 100 countries have arrived to Abu Dhabi to begin preparations for the biggest games in history, and the first in the Middle East, which will get underway next March.
More than 170 nations will be vying for glory in 24 sports, giving 7,000 athletes with special needs the chance to shine on the global stage.
The games aim to be ever more inclusive, with countries looking far and wide to recruit athletes.
the national director of Special Olympics Iraq, Saad Chnani, said to thenational newspaper “We are very happy for the world games to be happening in an Arabic country in the region, which is why we created our largest ever delegation"
“For the last two years, our team was only in Baghdad because of the war but this will be the first time the Iraqi delegation will have athletes from 15 governorates.
“Gender, religion, ethnicity have no part in the Special Olympics and this Iraqi delegation represents all parts of the community. All of them are participating under the banner of peace.”
The Iraqi delegation have spent years meeting with families at their homes and at community centres to raise awareness of the Special Olympics.
Some families were initially reluctant to let their children travel, fearing for their safety. But gradually, trust has been established.
“At the end, it all comes down to trust,” said Mr Chnani.