THE Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have put things in place to cover expenses incurred by members of the junior table tennis team and staff who were left stranded in the Dominican Republic on Thursday, after a strike by Jamaican air traffic controllers brought flights in and out of the island to a halt.
The industrial action by air traffic controllers was triggered by a fallout over wages. With air traffic controllers returning to work following meetings with authorities the table tennis delegation, which performed commendably in the Dominican Republic, is anxious to get home.
President of the Jamaica Table Tennis Association, Andrew Lue, who is the manager of the Jamaican team, was happy that after experiencing some inconvenience the players are comfortable and, with support from the ministry, their excess overseas expenses will be covered.
On Friday Lue told the Jamaica Observer that the 22-member delegation, including parents, had used up all their resources and were grateful that good friends as well as Jamaican officials came to their rescue by paying for lodging and food over the extra days.
“We won’t be able to get any flights to leave as a team so we have to take them one at a time, five at a time, or six at a time. One person leaves Saturday and then about half-dozen will leave on Sunday. The rest will leave on Monday.
“Our flight was cancelled because of the strike on Thursday. We were actually at the airport checking in, with three people left out of 22, when the flight was cancelled. The strike actually stranded us at the airport. I made calls to Juan Villa, the president of International Table Tennis Federation for the Americas. He is a resident of the Dominican Republic who assisted us to get transportation to where we are now. He arranged the accommodation for us at an affordable rate at the Olympic Hostel, where we have to pay a daily rate.
“We didn’t plan to be here at the hostel so there were no arrangements made for food. We had to go on the road to KFC Thursday night and supermarket Friday morning. I met with the secretary general of the Olympic Association and I arranged for us to get meals — but we have to have cash everyday as we go along.”
The delay has impacted school for some of the youngsters. In terms of their peace of mind, Lue said the location where they are staying has a pool and a room for games, which should be enough to keep them entertained and content until they arrive home.
“Some of them were doing online classes, even [on] Friday. The people who are able to do online classes, they do it still because we have Wi-Fi. Those who have to go face-to-face, they are missing school. The last set of people should be coming home on Monday. We will come as the seats are available because we won’t be able to get a chartered flight.”
Minister of Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange confirmed on Friday that she has given instruction for the bills incurred by the teams to be covered.
“We have worked out a solution for the Ministry of Sport to take care of accommodation. The Honorary Counsul for Jamaica in the Dominican Republic is in touch with the team. We are making arrangements through them to have their meals and lodging covered for the period of time that they are there,” she said.
Head of Mission at the Jamaican Embassy in the Dominican Republic, Thomas Marley commended the team for remaining strong, vibrant and resilient, and said that they should be proud to call themselves Jamaicans.
“They have had problems but they are a very strong, resilient and a resourceful set of people. Jamaica has all right to be proud of them. These people are true Jamaican ambassadors and they deserve all the support they can get at home and overseas.”
The occasion which brought the team to the Dominican Republic was a Caribbean table tennis youth tournament — an Under-15 and Under-19 competition. With three bronze medals, Jamaica placed third behind Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which ranked them number one among English-speaking countries. Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia, two English-speaking countries, placed closely behind Jamaica.
Lue said he was proud of his team’s performance at the championships.
“I am extremely proud of our performance overall considering the short preparation time and limited resources. We are the top English-speaking Caribbean team, followed by Trinidad and Tobago. We have also qualified for the ITTF PanAm championships in August to compete in the boys’ U15 team event and girls’ U19 team events,” he said.
He then gave special mention to Jayden Ebanks, who was very outstanding throughout the tournament.
“He was our top athlete with three bronze medals in the Under-15 boys’ team, Under-15 boys’ doubles, and the Under-15 mixed doubles,” the president ended.
— Additional reporting by Ruddy Allen.