Jamaica Observer / Olivia Grange, the minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, encouraged members of Jamaica’s unified football team to be their “best” before their departure to the inaugural Special Olympics Toyota Cup in Illinois, United States. The Jamaicans, the only ones invited from the Caribbean, are grouped with Nigeria — whom they face this afternoon — Japan and Italy.
The football competition is part of the global celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics Games. Chicago’s Soldier Field Stadium hosted the first-ever Games in 1968.
“You all represent the best of Jamaica and what makes our little island — our little Jamaica, this little piece of the rock — so well known and beloved,” she told the footballers as she sat with them on Saturday outside the offices of Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ).
“I want to encourage you to do your best, you are trailblazers and you are teaching our people in Jamaica to be courageous and to pursue goals and not let anything stop you.”
The sport minister also advised the athletes to “play as a team and succeed as a team” and condition their minds to “be satisfied” with the outcome once they have done their best.
Lennox Christie, the head of delegation, expressed pride that Jamaica’s players have the opportunity to compete against some of the world’s strongest footballing countries.
“I’m feeling really excited and there is enthusiasm around the entire team, knowing that Jamaica is one of the 20 male teams playing in this tournament. We’re so proud and it speaks to the development that we’ve had in terms of unified football in Jamaica. And we are not just representing Jamaica here, but also the Caribbean at large, because we are the only team in the region to be in this tournament,” Christie, who is also the SOJ’s director of football, told the Jamaica Observer .
SOJ Executive Director Lorna Bell noted the preparation put in, including the unified football competition and healthy athletes training and screening in St Elizabeth last November.
“This is the outcome of all the hard work in expanding our unified sports programmes. The world saw the show we had in Treasure Beach last year, and there is more to come. I’m confident the football team will represent well similar in a way that the unified basketball team did us proud at the World Summer Games in Los Angeles three years ago,” Bell said.
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 athletes without disabilities.
Intellectual disabilities can either be acquired or genetic, and can include cases of cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, autism, and traumatic brain injury.
— Sanjay Myers