One of the most fulfilling moments of my life – Fennell
From the less-than-
glamourous experience of delivering his remarks
in pouring rain during the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, to sharing the stage with the Queen herself, esteemed Jamaican sport administrator Michael 'Mike' Fennell has seen it all.
With its world-class athletes often taking the spotlight across the globe, Jamaica's sporting administrators, even those with Fennell's national, regional and international profile, sometimes get lost in the noise. But the 79-year-old who has led the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) for 37 uninterrupted years was on Monday evening toasted by his peers at a cocktail reception hosted at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel's Talk of the Town.
The occasion was used to celebrate Fennell's latest achievement - his recent conferment with the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies.
Fennell, who also served as chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation from 1994-2003 and president up to 2011, was grateful and spoke to his legacy, fondest memories, and the value of sports in unifying the nation.
"This is indeed one of the most fulfilling moments of my life because when an institution like the University of the West Indies, in serious consideration, decides to do something like this, it's truly overwhelming," Fennell said.
"You don't look for these things, you go into sports administration and you volunteer your time, not because you are going to get something, and yes it's nice, but we don't do it for that, but of course, it's nice to be recognised," Fennell added.
Fennell, who competed in water polo, swimming and cricket, shared that he was compelled to give back after witnessing the impact of sports, particularly on the island's young people.
"Sport is the only social tool that has seriously made a dent in unifying the nation. Whether it's football, athletics or something else, we all come together and we need to use sport more to unify communities," Fennell implored.
"It's unfortunate, but our country is too divided politically; everytime you mention anything, you are labelled one way or the other. Sport is right in the middle and it pulls us all together, it's a powerful tool, and I dearly believe that it ought to be used more in our efforts to unify this country," he added.
"You really have a vision of what you want to do for sport, the legacy has already been established by the performance of our athletes on the international scene. I have been able to establish a headquarters for the JOA, equipped with a training room and we are looking to expand that. That's the physical side," he noted. "What I think is more important is how we can launch more training and development programmes to bring others in the field."
Turning back the clock, Fennell, who underlined that he is serving his last term as JOA boss, shared: "I can remember the first Olympic Games I went to as chef de mission was in Montreal in 1976 and when Don Quarrie won the 200m - he came second in the 100m - I thought that was the pinnacle."
"Then of course, this was surpassed by many things. In 1992 in Barcelona when we were under the hammer, Juliet Cuthbert performed remarkably. She won silver; Grace Jackson (silver) in 1988 in Seoul, and you had people like Winthrop Graham, Deon Hemmings, and of course, the modern age with Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown and the supremo Usain Bolt, you can keep on naming them," he added in reference to some of his favourite sporting moments.
The event was attended by former Prime Minister Percival James Patterson, members of the JOA executive, as well as several sporting luminaries, athletes and administrators.