So the RJR Foundation Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards have come and gone. There were really no surprises with Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce walking away with the top prizes. This was probably the toughest battle for Bolt given that there were so many outstanding male contenders this year. Boxer Nicolas Walters and cricketer Marlon Samuels were every bit as good as Bolt, but the accomplishments of the fastest man ever, was just way more global in scope. So as we have seen repeatedly in the past five years when the going gets rough Bolt always manages to overcome.
The ceremony itself at the Jamaica Pegasus, despite the production guffaws that were evident on television, was not bad either. The seating, lighting, food and ambiance were all on the up and up, but there was an oversight that really dulled everything else.
Our paralympic athletes have served Jamaica extremely well over the years. Prior to last year, except for 1976, Jamaica has participated in every Paralympic Games since they officially began in 1968. In 1972, the land of wood and water copped eight gold, three silver and seven bronze medals outpacing the single medal won by Lennox Miller at the Olympic Games that same year. In fact, that performance outstrips every performance by our able-bodied athletes at any one Olympiad. In Beijing Jamaica won 11 medals including six gold, and in London this past summer, Jamaica won 12 medals including four gold so it can be argued that our disabled athletes are still one up on their able-bodied counterparts in that regard.
Including last year when Alphanso Campbell took home Jamaica’s 21st gold medal at the London Paralympic Games, Jamaican paralympians have won 21 gold, 16 silver and 18 bronze medals at the Paralympics. They have gone above and beyond any expectations that the people of this country would have had of them. Why is it then that we continue to overlook them?
At the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards the organizers set up a stage that was perhaps four feet high, too high for even able-bodied person to navigate without jumping yet there was no ramp for our athletes who for the most part, confined to their wheelchairs. That, I find, was unacceptable and downright disgraceful. That wasn’t oversight, that was sheer disrespect.
To be fair, this disrespect is not confined to the people who put together the awards show last Friday night. Right across the board Jamaica as a nation continues to overlook the needs of the disabled. You can hardly find a public building, school or hospital that caters to the limitations faced by the disabled. In many instances, ramps are constructed in after thought. However, on Friday night considering that some of our more disabled athletes were also being honoured for their athletic accomplishments that some thought would have been given to installing a ramp.
I am aware that our disabled athletes are considered special and that they are at all levels, but it would have been really special of us had we remembered to take them into consideration on a night when we claimed to be honouring them.