Ministerial Statement by the Minister of Social Development and Sports, The Hon. Michael A. Weeks, JP MP
Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to inform Honourable Members that the Ministry of Social Development and Sports intends to launch an initiative to highlight the sporting achievements of, and make sports more socially inclusive for, persons with disabilities in Bermuda.
Mr. Speaker, the objectives of this initiative are as follows:
- Consult broadly on the topic of sport and persons with disabilities;
- Create an Action Plan which identifies steps required to heighten awareness and increase participation in sports and recreation by persons with disabilities;
- Undertake a public relations exercise to raise the profile of Bermuda’s para athletes competing at the international level;
- Establish enhanced opportunities for sporting engagement amongst Bermuda’s community of disabled persons;
- Promote the accommodation and integration of persons with disabilities into mainstream athletic and other sports competitions.
Mr. Speaker, Bermuda’s National Sports Policy states: “There should be no barriers to participating in sport and recreation or to developing an individual’s skills to achieve their sporting potential.”
Mr. Speaker, the National Sports Policy also states and I quote: “Government acknowledges the sports and recreational needs of the historically underrepresented population of persons with disabilities. The commitment to increasing their participation in both sport and recreation is paramount to the aims of this Policy. Additionally, increasing the awareness of the general public of the contributions that persons with disabilities have made and continue to make to the sports community locally and internationally will enhance the community as a whole. The Government intends for National Sport Governing Bodies (NSGBs) and other key stakeholders to offer sport and recreational activities that have been adapted where needed to include persons with disabilities.”
Further, Mr. Speaker, the National Sports Policy goes on to say “Persons with disabilities are encouraged to continue to educate the Department (of Youth, Sport and Recreation), NSGBs and other key stakeholders on how to accommodate them in the variety of roles within sports and recreation. With this knowledge this would provide for persons with disabilities to experience the full range of sporting programs and recreational activities.”
Mr. Speaker, in addition, Goal 7 of the National Policy on Disabilities (2006) which deals with Culture, Recreation and Sport states and I quote: “All people, including people with disabilities, have the right to participate in culture, recreation, leisure and sport activities and must have equal access to these activities both for their own benefit and that of our community. All people, including people with disabilities, are entitled to the same level of funding and coaching to pursue their cultural, recreational and sporting goals.”
Mr. Speaker, these are laudable statements. But now we, as a community, must translate these words into action. We must walk the talk! Accordingly, as Minister with responsibility for Sport, I intend to take action. We will consult directly with persons with disabilities to get their feedback on their level of participation in sports, the barriers that prevent them from more active engagement in sports, and ideas they may have for increasing participation in sports by persons with disabilities. This is a critical and necessary first step, but we do not want it to consume all of our efforts. Therefore, we are targeting to complete the consultative phase by September 2018.
Mr. Speaker, the consultation will include many stakeholders such as the Bermuda Paralympic Association, Special Olympics Bermuda, Boccia Bermuda, Windreach Bermuda, Ageing and Disability Services, the Disability Advisory Council, the Association of National Sport Governing Bodies, among others, to ascertain their views on how to increase participation.
Mr. Speaker, without a doubt, the best way to proceed is by charting an Action Plan to identify achievable measures and targets. It is our intent to engage and challenge the entire community, including Government itself, to embrace the capacity of sport to foster development and social inclusion when it comes to differently abled persons. The Action Plan development phase will overlap the consultative phase, so that a robust Action Plan can be established by October 2018.
Mr. Speaker, the third objective is to raise the profile of our para athletes that compete at an international level. This ongoing action step is important from several perspectives: a) it can motivate other persons with disabilities to train towards reaching an international competitive level b) it can instil pride in all members of our community when accomplishments of our para athletes are recognized and highlighted and c) it can encourage investment in infrastructure and equipment to accommodate persons with disabilities in sporting endeavours.
Mr. Speaker, in this regard I am pleased to note that there were seven (7) para athletes out of a total of seventy-eight (78) athletes who participated in the 2018 Bermuda Invitational Permit Meet organized by the Bermuda National Athletics Association and held at the National Sports Centre on Friday May 11th 2018, including Bermuda’s own Jessica Lewis, a 2015 Para Pan American Games gold medal winner, who is currently ranked number one in the world in T53 100 m.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform this Honourable House that I will be traveling to the United Kingdom shortly to give support to three (3) of Bermuda’s para athletes who will be competing in the 2018 World Boccia Championships being held at the Exhibition Centre in Liverpool, UK from August 12th – 18th 2018. The three para athletes are Omar Hayward, a BC1 competitor, Yushae Desilva-Andrade, a BC2 competitor, and Theophilus (Steve) Wilson, a BC4 competitor. I very much look forward to seeing these athletes in action.
Mr. Speaker, at the 2018 Bermuda Invitational Permit Meet, U.S. sprinter Blake Leeper, a world record holder with multiple Paralympic and World Championships medals who runs on two prosthetic legs, electrified the crowd when he won the gold medal in the 400 m.
Mr. Speaker, we must use our best efforts to provide opportunities for sporting engagement amongst all of Bermuda’s community of disabled persons. Therefore as our fourth main objective, we will examine ways to facilitate and enable participation in sports by organizing and encouraging sports activities and competitions for persons with disabilities. For example, Mr. Speaker, we could consider additional sporting events for Bermuda’s special needs children. Perhaps the time has come for establishment of a National Disability Games in Bermuda. Ultimately, with support from both Government and the corporate sector, staging of a Bermuda Invitational Para Athletic Games is well within our capability.
Mr. Speaker, it will be a good thing to profile our successful para athletes in international competition. It will be wonderful if we can bring sports into the lives of more of our persons with disabilities. But the true measure of how we as a people have embraced persons with disabilities is to achieve the fifth objective: the accommodation and integration of persons with disabilities into mainstream athletic and other sports competitions.
Mr. Speaker, my Ministry is fortunate enough to include both culture and sports. Therein lies a golden opportunity to create a strong synergy between these two portfolios and achieve even greater outcomes. Exploiting this opportunity will require creativity, collaboration and vision. There is no reason, for example, why an annual art and music festival cannot provide funding for disability sports events.
Mr. Speaker, around the world, countries are making great strides in using sport to advance the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities. It is time for Bermuda to join those nations who are recognizing the importance of increasing public awareness of the rights and capabilities of persons with disabilities through greater exposure and participation in sport.
Mr. Speaker, I truly believe sport can be a pivotal means to accelerate greater social inclusion for persons with disabilities. It is imperative that access to sporting opportunities be created, enhanced, developed and continued for persons with disabilities in Bermuda. The time is now!
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.