By Neto Baptiste
A photograph of former prime minister and national athlete Sir Lester Bryant Birdwill be one of the first placed at the YASCO Sports Complex as government moves to rededicate the walls surrounding the track and field facility to both past and present athletes who would have made significant contributions to the sport.
This was revealed by Minister of Sports Daryll Matthewwho, while speaking on the Good Morning Jojo Sports Show, said efforts were being made to honour the National Hero prior to his passing on August 9.
“In my second to last discussion with the late Sir Lester Bird when he was at Dr Joey John’s clinic, he and I had some conversations about YASCO and he also indicated that we should celebrate our athletes by having them mortalised up at YASCO. I said to him that ‘your picture we are going to put up there in terms of Lester Bird the athlete’, and he had a good laugh about it and he went as far as to say, in a jovial manner, ‘you want Antigua people to kill you?’”
“When I realised his deteriorating condition, I did not want him to not have the opportunity to see his photo adorn the walls of YASCO and so I asked the committee to advance plans to have this done but sadly, it didn’t happen in time but that is really what triggered the rapid escalation,” he added.
Officials had the marine-inspired mural at the Old Parham Road venue painted over about three weeks ago, a decision which drew criticism from those who were instrumental in the original painting of the wall back in 2009.
Matthew said he has since met with the individuals responsible and explained the ministry’s decision.
“A few weeks ago, it did cause some controversy with a particular group of persons who were responsible for the painting of the aquarium scene that was on the wall. We have had some discussions about it and I have explained to them the rationale behind the covering of it, and that ‘John Public’ also agrees that a more fitting set of artwork to be displayed on the wall, would be artwork displaying our national athletes and our prominent athletes over the years,” he said.
The late Sir Lester was a cricketer in his early years, having played for both the Antigua and Barbuda senior national team and also for the Leeward Islands. As an athlete, he won a bronze medal in the long jump at the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago while representing the British West Indies. The Antiguan attended the University of Michigan, where he was All-American long jumper in 1960 and graduated in 1962.In February 2017, the 2009 creation – overseen by famed US conservationist and artist Robert Wyland – was refurbished with the help of local sponsors.