Inclusiveness, tolerance and acceptance are at the heart of a flourishing partnership.


Etihad Airways carries Special Olympics Flame of Hope to Abu Dhabi.

Here at Etihad, we have a rich history of equal opportunity and in line with the UAE government declaring 2017 as the Year of Giving, globally we embarked on a truly remarkable journey to provide a platform to connect with people through sports, inclusively. This extends to our partnership with Special Olympics, which strives to provide a year-round sports program for all people with an intellectual disability.

Our local partnership with Special Olympics Australia began in 2018, kicking off in Adelaide at the Australian National Games with the entire Etihad Australia team volunteering to help wherever we could – from cheering on the talented athletes, to time keeping and supporting catering efforts.

Partaking in the action at the Games was truly exciting, rewarding and eye-opening. In fact, one of our longest standing employees in the Etihad Australian team deemed it to be the best day of his career with us.

Fast forward 12 months, and I’m proud to say our partnership with the Special Olympics has flourished.

I was honoured to join the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove, and other dedicated supporters to bid farewell to the Australian Special Olympics team. 140 athletes, coaches and volunteers boarded flight EY 451 out of Sydney heading for the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi to participate alongside 7,000 other athletes at the Special Olympics World Summer Games Abu Dhabi 2019.


Bidding farewell to the Special Olympics Australia team.

How we’re getting involved

At a global level, Etihad has developed a wide program of support and engagement around the Special Olympics World Summer Games – pre, during and post. This includes large-scale volunteering efforts around the world and at the Games – more than 1,000 Etihad volunteers have come forward to help put on the largest sporting event of the year.

Other initiatives include the launch of an innovative e-learning course to enhance staff members’ awareness of people with intellectual disabilities, alongside specialised training for our award-winning Cabin Crew, to ensure they are prepared to assist athletes, their families and supporters throughout their journey.

Etihad is also encouraging Etihad Guest loyalty program members to donate frequent flyer miles to help provide athletes with accommodation, food, transport, special events and dedicated facilities at the Games. As of March 4, more than 490,000 miles have been donated.

Passengers around the globe can also join in the celebration by flying on our dedicated Special Olympics aircraft long after the event itself takes place – it’s just one of the ways the legacy of the event will live on.

A deserving cause

Special Olympics Australia has openly conveyed the challenge it faces as an organisation to secure corporate and government funding for what is one of the most marginalised and misunderstood communities in the nation. It cites that many businesses simply find it confronting or awkward.

As the global airline partner for the World Games, our entire company has made a commitment to not only make the Games more accessible for athletes and their families, but also to help end the stigma and discrimination that people with intellectual disabilities face.

Companies on many levels want to get involved in CSR, but often it’s only traditional pathways that are explored and too often, causes such as the Special Olympics are overlooked.

It shouldn’t just be about financial support either. There are so many ways to support lesser known community groups who really need it – from long-term employee volunteering or simply activating your network to spread a positive message. Above all, it’s important to consider how the positive impact of your partnership can endure long-term.

Looking ahead

By its nature, Etihad embodies a spirit of togetherness and we pledge to continue to play a supporting role with Special Olympics to make the 2019 World Games the most symbolic and successful Games to date while continuing to support this deserving cause year-round.

I’d like to call on other businesses to join us in choosing to be inclusive, practicing acceptance and tolerance. Together, we can make the world of difference for those who truly need it.

Sarah Built is Etihad Airways General Manager Australia and New Zealand

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