National athletes’ Special Olympics success spurs calls for greater investment

Antigua and Barbuda’s medallists in last month’s Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 (from left) Darius Charles (gold), Akelene Grigg (bronze) and Christopher Lewis (bronze)
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By Orville Williams

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Antigua and Barbuda’s success at the recent Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 has been met with delight, commendation and a call for greater support from the private sector to boost young athletes with intellectual disabilities.

The national delegation to Germany for the tournament, which ran from June 17-25, returned to the twin island nation with one gold medal courtesy of Darius Charles in the 100-metre sprint, and two bronze medals via Akelene Grigg in the 200-metres, and Christopher Lewis in the 800-metres. Lewis also placed seventh in the 400-metres, while Aliyah Rogers also represented the country.

The group was chaperoned by Head of Delegation Jamille Nelson, Head Coach Janice Steele, and Team Doctor Jonathan McCommie.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday to commemorate the team’s participation and performance, Chairman of Special Olympics Antigua and Barbuda (SOAB) Ayanna Shadrach applauded the team of volunteers that helped to prepare the athletes for the tournament, the sponsors who funded the trip and, of course, the athletes themselves for their efforts.

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Antigua and Barbuda’s medallists in last month’s Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 (from left) Darius Charles (gold), Akelene Grigg (bronze) and Christopher Lewis (bronze)

She also spoke on the continued struggle to finance their operations and urged corporate Antigua and Barbuda to do more in that regard.

“We look forward to the community’s support in our endeavour to raise funds, because these trips are very costly and we need the support of our private sector, [for] private entities to support the movement more.

“Yes, we got support from the government, from Digicel and from Special Olympics International, [but] we would really appreciate the support of the private sector. [Furthermore], if each person in Antigua gives a dollar toward Special Olympics, we will have [sufficient] funds to finance ourselves,” she implored.

The press conference was also attended by Daryll Matthew, Minister responsible for Education and Sports, who acknowledged the aforementioned need for support and made a commitment to that cause.

“As we continue to build awareness of the [Special Olympics] programme, as we continue to build awareness of the athletes [and] give [them] more opportunities for access to compete, I want to continue to pledge the support of the ministry, the government, and I dare say all of Antigua and Barbuda.

“As citizens and residents of this country, I’m beginning to feel a lot better knowing that there seems to be increased awareness in the society. Is it at the level where we want it to be? Absolutely not, but it’s events like this that are necessary and important to ensure that we have a truly inclusive society.”

Matthew also spoke at length about the growing impact of sports on some of society’s most marginalised groups and the global efforts, again through sports, to encourage inclusivity and remove the stigma that has long been attached to differently-abled people.

He commended the athletes, both those who medalled and the lone athlete who did not place in the top three, for a job well done in representing Antigua and Barbuda to the best of their abilities.

“When we look at someone performing, it must be appreciated that they’re giving their best … not everyone performs at the same [level], not everyone’s best can be measured the same way, but when athletes have an opportunity to compete with and against their peers [and] to be exposed to the international sporting arena, it really does have a life-changing impact.

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Sports Minister Daryll Matthew (centre) with the medallists, coaches and administrators of Special Olympics Antigua and Barbuda (SOAB)

“So, I’m quite proud of the work that has gone into ensuring that [our] athletes made it to Berlin. I want to personally thank the coaches, the administrators and the entire organisation, who put things in place to ensure that they got there and returned safely.

“I’d also like to congratulate the athletes who medalled…a lot of times we fall into the trap of determining whether or not someone was a success by [their position in the race], but winning and losing isn’t the only name of the game where sports are concerned…to have even made it there to begin with is a big deal,” he added.

Meanwhile, following a short break for the summer holidays, SOAB will resume weekly training in September for nearly two dozen athletes in three disciplines: athletics, bocce – an outdoor bowling sport with Italian origins – and unified soccer.

The Special Olympics World Games are the world’s largest inclusive sports event, where thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities compete together with the aim of “achieving greater recognition and social participation of people with intellectual disabilities in society”.

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