Sport

Special Olympics meeting opens with calls for inclusion

BY SANJAY MYERS Observer staff reporter myerss@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, April 25, 2014    

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THE Special Olympics 2014 Caribbean Business Meeting got underway at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel yesterday with various stakeholders calling for inclusion and empowerment for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Wilford 'Billy' Heaven, chief executive officer of the CHASE Fund, delivering the keynote address during the opening ceremony, lauded Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) for its work in increasing public awareness.

"Here in Jamaica... we have embraced the tenets of the movement to change public attitude, to empower these marginalised members of our society and to encourage continued advocacy for their inclusion," he said.

Heaven, who is also the president of the Jamaica Cricket Association, noted the country's impending participation at the inaugural Special Olympics Unified Football Cup later this year and said he will lead the charge for Unified Cricket.

"I look forward to one day commenting on a Unified Cricket team for Special Olympics. As a matter of fact, I will push for it."

Marketing, social media management, fund-raising and Unified Sports programmes are some of the areas being looked at during the three-day conference, which is attended by 18 Caribbean territories.

The inclusive Unified Sports programme brings together athletes with intellectual disabilities and individuals without these disabilities as teammates for training and competition.

Jamaica shocked many due to historic achievements at the Special Olympics 2013 World Winter Games in the Republic of Korea.

The tropical island won silver medals in two ice figure skating categories to go with their second-place finish in floor hockey.

The CHASE Fund boss, whose organisation is a major sponsor of SOJ, recommended "integrating" a wide variety of sports into the National Summer Games.

Amie Dugan, the director of Marketing and Communications of Special Olympics North America and one of five trainers to guide the programmes during the business meeting, explained the significance of the conference.

"It's a really important function because we bring people together to spend intense time sharing best practices, learning professional development and sharing what's on the horizon. It's critical because here we have the leadership of the Caribbean and they will take the knowledge back home to their programmes.

"At this conference, in particular, we will be looking at the Unified Sports concept, which can change perception, because when you are teammates with someone you bond really quickly," she told the Jamaica Observer.

After the opening ceremony yesterday, the participants engaged in theoretical work at the Pegasus Hotel, ahead of today's practical session at the Police Officers' Club. Tomorrow, the various stakeholders and volunteers will engage in a torch run before a closing party in the evening at the Pegasus.

Meanwhile, the local law enforcement body was notably awarded by Bill Buford, the SONA Caribbean regional co-ordinator for Law Enforcement Torch Run, in recognition of its outstanding contribution to supporting Special Olympics Jamaica.

Karina Powell-Hood, superintendent in charge of the Community Safety and Security Branch, said:

"It's a tremendous feeling and I accept it with great appreciation on behalf of the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) and the other law enforcement agencies that are on board with us. When we started in 1986 with our then Assistant Commissioner Neville Wheatle, he had the kind of passion and vision that came across and every year we see how well the special athletes do and we feel really heartened."

While the ceremony was lit up by the rousing performance of Promise Students and Special Olympics Kingston athletes in a musical presentation, it was brought to a fitting end by the eloquent Delano Douglas.

The Special Olympics Jamaica athlete, in giving out a warm vote of thanks, cheekily suggested that the Jamaica Football Federation can "call on us Special Olympians" to help in the Reggae Boyz qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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