Mon | Mar 25, 2019

A ‘Special’ appeal - Bolt urges more support for SOJ

Published:Tuesday | January 22, 2019 | 12:25 AM
Usain Bolt (right) and Winsome Wilkins (second left), chairperson of the Usain Bolt Foundation, present a cheque to Special Olympics Jamaica Chairperson Lorna Bell (second right). Looking on are Aldrick ‘Allie’ McNab (left), Yashima Stewart (third left) and O’Brian McFarlene at Special Olympics Jamaica’s offices at the National Arena yesterday.
Usain Bolt (left) poses with Special Olympian Kirk Wint after presenting a cheque to Special Olympics Jamaica at its offices at the National Arena yesterday.

Sprinting legend Usain Bolt is calling for greater support for Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ), as they prepare to compete at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Bolt, yesterday, through his Usain Bolt Foundation, donated $1 million to the organisation and went one step further, making a call to his long-time kit sponsor Puma, who agreed to support the 98-member team with full gear and equipment for the March 14–21 multi-discipline event.

Jamaica will be sending 73 athletes, 22 coaches, one medical representative and two officials to the international championships, which features intellectually disabled sportsmen and women, with the country set to participate in eight disciplines – volleyball (male and female unified), football (male and female, both unified), roller skate (unified male), bocce, swimming, athletics, badminton and basketball.

However, it is an expensive undertaking, with airfare alone costing Special Olympics Jamaica US$143,000 (J$18.9 million), and Bolt, who was on hand yesterday during a short presentation ceremony at SOJ’s offices inside the National Arena, urged corporate Jamaica, as well as other athletes, to lend a helping hand to the Special Olympians.

“I know the struggles, and for me to help them to live a dream or an experience, even as an Olympian myself, it was an easy decision,” Bolt toldThe Gleaner. “I want to invite the private sector also to come on board and help them, to give what they can; give because it’s something good and I am just happy to be a part of it.”


The retired athlete’s contribution was the latest in a long association with the organisation, which invited him to give a keynote address in 2005 during the National Summer Games, and he was full of encouragement for the athletes present.

“My advice to them is to understand that it will be a big stage,” he said. “Don’t get stagefright, just go out there and try to have as much fun as possible and represent themselves and Jamaica.”

Executive director of Special Olympics Jamaica, Lorna Bell, also called for wider support.

“I am extremely excited this morning and I just want to say thanks and make a special appeal to Jamaica to come on board. We are still short. … We are getting there, but we still need some more support,” said Bell, who also called for wider assistance.

“(It’s about the) importance of giving back, especially our athletes who have made it, to come back and support them, not only financially,” she added. “I am appealing to all Jamaican athletes who have done well to come back and build Jamaica.”

Meanwhile, Allie McNab, chairman of SOJ, underlined the value of supporting and providing a platform for the intellectually challenged community.

“Those are big numbers (budget), but when you think of the benefits to our athletes, what it means as a humanitarian movement, I’m pretty certain that we will be raising that,” said McNab, who also serves as special adviser to Minister of Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange.

“The Government is aware of what we are doing, and so we are in consultation with Minister Grange and the prime minster is pretty aware that we have this 98- member team going,” he added. “These athletes represent Jamaica with pride, they represent Jamaica in every form and fashion just as much as a Usain Bolt, for instance. There is a pride within what they do.”

“I know the struggles, and for me to help them to live a dream or an experience, even as an Olympian myself, it was an easy decision.”