New Zealand honors terror victims at Special Olympics World Games

A day after the mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand, the country's Special Olympics delegation at the World Games in Abu Dhabi paid tribute at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Courtesy Special Olympics

On Friday morning in Abu Dhabi, the Special Olympics New Zealand delegation awoke to horrifying news. Back in their home country, gunmen espousing white nationalist sympathies and anti-immigrant sentiments had opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people died in the terror attack and dozens more remain in critical condition.

Halfway around the world, the first day of the Special Olympics World Games continued. The competition, which is the largest sporting or humanitarian event of the year, is built on inclusion and unity. ESPN's Kevin Negandhi, who is in Abu Dhabi covering the World Games, contrasted those ideals with an attack that he described as "an expression of hatred that's hard to imagine."

The outpouring of grief spanned the globe. In Abu Dhabi, New Zealand athletes and others from the Special Olympics honored the victims throughout the weekend.

"These people didn't deserve this," said basketball athlete Carlton Vivian, who is from Christchurch. "Nobody deserves this."

The Special Olympics held a moment of silence before every event on Saturday, including a New Zealand men's basketball game against Australia. Just before tipoff, the athletes performed a ceremonial haka -- a traditional Maori dance -- in recognition of the tragedy. Later, more than 100 Special Olympics athletes, coaches and staff gathered at the nearby Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the country, for another tribute.

"We will not be defeated by anger, we will not be defeated by division," said Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver, whose mother founded the organization more than 50 years ago. As he looked at the New Zealand and United Arab Emirates athletes who surrounded him -- many in tears -- he told the group, "If we need any example for this lesson, we have it in you."