Grange says wheels in motion to expand Jamaica’s Special Olympics programme
BERLIN, GERMANY — Jamaica’s Minister of Sport Olivia Grange says wheels are in motion to expand the country’s Special Olympics programme through the advancement of government policy.
Grange, in Germany to meet with members of the Special Olympics International hierarchy, and Caribbean ministers and regional ambassadors, noted that laying out policy framework will ensure funding for the development efforts.
“We’re going to expand the programme going forward,” she said during Friday evening’s reception hosted by the Jamaican embassy in Berlin for the Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) delegation set to compete at the World Games in Germany.
“That’s one of the signed commitments I will be making — on this occasion with Special Olympics International — to guarantee funding and expansion of the Special Olympics programme in Jamaica,” Grange told the Jamaica Observer on the eve of the meeting.
The goal is to create a coalition of regional government representatives to work with Special Olympics athlete leaders in using sports to build awareness for people with intellectual disabilities.
The SOJ programme is considered a model for Caribbean countries because of its decades-long partnership with the Jamaican Government, fortified by the signed agreement between both parties in 2005.
SOJ is active in each of Jamaica’s 14 parishes, serving over 4,000 people with intellectual disabilities.
Special education and sport-related programmes which cater to people with disabilities are supported through partnerships with the Government and the private sector.
Grange said she will be among those leading the charge in the Caribbean.
“It was important for me to be here to support the Special Olympians; they need all the encouragement they can get. I’ve been asked to be one of the global spokespersons in the region because Jamaica has been leading the region in relation to our Special Olympics programme,” she said.
Rodolphe Samuel, the St Maarten sport minister, said he hopes the movement in the Caribbean can be structured similar to Concacaf, which governs football in the Caribbean, North America and Central America.
“One of the good things is that I am able to meet with persons that I can network with, and through that system we can grow the idea of the Special Olympics. We can grow the idea… also doing something on a Caribbean level like we have Concacaf and all of that.
“Then we can do the Special Olympics on the Caribbean level and have other islands which have athletes with challenges, and they can also be part of this movement,” Samuel told the Observer.
Meanwhile, Grange said the reception at the Jamaican embassy, which also welcomed guests from other Caribbean countries, was the right tonic for the Jamaicans ahead of the Games.
“There’s a lot of love, and I really want to thank [the chargée d’affaires] for organising it, and I want to thank the Jamaicans living in Berlin for taking time to come here and welcome the Special Olympians.”
Lorna Bell, executive director of the Special Olympics Caribbean Initiative, was also grateful.
“It’s always great for us to gather and give thanks as a Caribbean team when we are away from home as it helps our athletes to get acquainted with their new environment and it also relaxes them, which is important,” she noted.
Deniese Sealey, chargée d’affaires at the Jamaican embassy in Berlin, said it was a privilege to host the group.
“To say that we are overjoyed to have them is an understatement… it is really a pleasure to have them here with us this evening and to be able to host them and prepare them for the competition. We thought that giving them a proper Jamaican meal would give them the impetus, the extra strength to be able to perform well.”
The Special Olympics World Games officially began with the opening ceremony late on Saturday and is scheduled to end June 25.
The Jamaican contingent, comprising 47 athletes, is down to compete in aquatics, athletics, women’s football (seven-a-side), men’s unified football (seven-a-side), swimming, badminton and unified volleyball.
Through sport activities and competition the Special Olympics movement aims to break down barriers that exclude people with intellectual disabilities, such as autism and Down’s syndrome, from mainstream society.
The disabilities can either be acquired or genetic and can also include cases of cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and some cases of developmental delay.