SOJ welcomes Bolt's help, seeks additional support

Thursday, January 24, 2019

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LORNA Bell, the executive director of Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ), hopes that the endorsement of the world's fastest man will give the programme much-needed momentum ahead of the World Summer Games.

During a press conference on Monday at the SOJ's base at Independence Park, the Usain Bolt Foundation pledged $1 million to support Jamaica's participation at the 2019 Abu Dhabi Special Olympics Games, scheduled to be held March 14-21.

“I hope that Usain coming on board will definitely send a message to Jamaica and to the world the importance of having a level playing field for all,” she noted, stressing the Special Olympics mantra of fostering inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities.

“He [Usain] is an awesome human being and we're just happy to have him here this morning to mingle with the athletes,” Bell added.

The Jamaicans are set to compete in athletics, bocce, skating, swimming, unified badminton, unified basketball, unified football (men's and women's teams), and unified volleyball (men's and women's teams) at the Abu Dhabi Games.

During his brief speech, Bolt, the 32-year-old retired multiple Olympic champion, announced that, in addition to the $1 million, sports apparel company Puma, with whom he has a long-standing endorsement deal, has agreed to fully outfit the Jamaica team at the Games. The value of the Puma deal was undisclosed, but Bolt confirmed that it will include trainers and running spikes.

Bell called on other prospective partners for their support.

“I want to make a special appeal to Jamaica to come on board and to help us. Our budget for airfare [to the Games] alone is US$143,000. We are getting there, but we still need some more support,” Bell added.

Aldrick “Allie” McNab, the SOJ board chairman, said the gesture emphasised that Bolt was more than just an incredible athlete.

“It's easy to admire the exploits of Usain Bolt in terms of the hard work and the talent, and what he has achieved. But my admiration for Usain Bolt has always been about the humanitarian side. I don't think he gets enough credit for his caring.

“It connects in his mind what is his responsibility. It's just unbelievable the way he commits to this country. I can't find words enough to thank him, I can't find words enough to say how I admire his patriotism,” McNab told the Jamaica Observer.

Andre Johnstone, the track and field head coach, said preparation is in high gear ahead of the Games.

“These are all athletes with intellectual disabilities, so we have to guide them. I really have great expectations; they have been training hard and they are really committed athletes,” he told journalists.

The track and field coach also welcomed Bolt's intervention to outfit the team.

“That's great because my heart really felt it for them when they had to enter track and field events only ones wearing sneakers. So I'm really grateful to the Usain Bolt Foundation for making this contribution,” Johnstone said.

SOJ says it will send a 98-member party — comprising 73 athletes, 22 coaches, two officials and a medical representative — to the Games.

Through sport activities and competition, the Special Olympics movement focuses on breaking down barriers that exclude people with intellectual disabilities from mainstream society.

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

Intellectual disabilities can either be acquired or genetic, and can include cases of cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, and traumatic brain injury.

— Sanjay Myers

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