Athletics

A stronger Caribbean

Special Olympics stakeholders urge countries of the region to pull together

BY SANJAY MYERS
Senior staff reporter
myerss@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, November 06, 2017



The call for a stronger Caribbean movement was loud and clear at the Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) healthy athletes screening and unified football competition at Treasure Beach Sports Park over the weekend.

“We are concerned that Special Olympics programmes in the region are falling behind, for want of leadership,” Candilla Berment-Harper, board chairman for Special Olympics Trinidad and Tobago, told the Jamaica Observer on Friday.

The SOJ staging of its football competition and healthy athletes training and screening offered its Caribbean counterparts a first-hand look at aspects of the programmes in Jamaica, and the chance to rally the region.

Strategic support was given by representatives from regional governing body Special Olympics North America and Special Olympics International.

“We feel it is time to reunite the Caribbean programmes. From here it is no turning back, so that the powers that be, who are here, recognise that the Caribbean programmes need to be stronger,” said Berment- Harper, who was executive director for the Caribbean between 2002 and 2009.

She insisted that help be given to dormant programmes, such as the one in Grenada, ahead of the 2019 World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

“Some programmes are still dormant, but we intend to help redevelop them. We have 23 programmes in the Caribbean, and in 2019 we have World Games in Abu Dhabi, so we expect every programme to send a delegation,” said the T&T board chair.

Lorna Bell, the SOJ executive director, echoed the sentiment that a tight Caribbean bond will provide the catalyst for growth within the individual nations and bolster global understanding of the Special Olympics movement.

“Together we are stronger and therefore we must work in that way. We must keep building our programmes and, in so doing, strengthen awareness about people with intellectual disabilities,” Bell told the Observer.

Guy Vala, who provides oversight for Special Olympics programmes in French-speaking countries in the Caribbean such as Guadeloupe, Martinique, French St Martin, highlighted inherent challenges, while noting that competition amongst neighbouring territories can boost development.

“Each programme has a culture, the Caribbean has a culture, so going into that country [there can be challenges] and you have to see what is the possibility and [work] with that culture, and not impose.

“It's a good thing to include all the Caribbean, to create a relationship within the Caribbean. It's important to have some competition — maybe football, maybe track and field amongst countries situated nearby in the Caribbean,” Vala said.

Under the healthy screening programme, athletes have access to free services with emphasis on the eyes, ears, teeth and feet. Athletes are also exposed to physiotherapy and general health awareness.

Unified competition provides athletes with intellectual disabilities the chance to compete alongside and against athletes without these disabilities.

During Saturday's opening ceremony, Dr Anselm Hennis, a director at Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) — which is the regional arm of the World Health Organisation, stressed the importance of teamwork and inclusion in his keynote address.

“We at PAHO are excited to be partnering with Special Olympics to improve access to health-care services for people with intellectual disabilities throughout the region of the Americas,” he said.

“Unified football competition provides a platform for competing, socialising, raising awareness and breaking down barriers. I started today by saying sport is a great enabler. I'll finish by saying it is also a great unifier,” Dr Hennis added.

Dr Hennis' sentiments add weight to those given by Dr Steven Perlman, a global clinical advisor for Special Olympics International. Perlman told the Observer that “health is going to drive the movement of Special Olympics” during an interview on Friday.

Floyd Green, state minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, was also present at the ceremony to give greetings on behalf of Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Green, also the member of parliament for St Elizabeth South Western, where the sports park is situated, said the government backs SOJ in its endeavours and welcomes similar future events to be hosted in Jamaica.

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