WE CONGRATULATE the members of TT’s delegation to the Special Olympics in the United Arab Emirates. The team won a total of 56 medals: 19 gold, 15 silver, and 22 bronze. Considering that they went up against some 7,500 athletes from all over the world yet managed to bring home medals in every sport in which they competed in is a great achievement.
This year’s performance is an improvement on the 2015 World Games, where they earned 48 medals – 15 gold, nine silver, and 24 bronze. Yet, instead of being able to fully bask in all of this, the entire experience was rendered somewhat bittersweet due to the circumstances surrounding one team member being left behind.
While her teammates were being feted at the Piarco International Airport last Friday, Shanice Baptiste was in Abu Dhabi. Doctors said she was unfit to travel, so she remained at a hospital along with a coach/caretaker.
Administrators should be praised for making the tough decision to not allow Shanice to travel given her medical condition. In matters such as this, the health of the athlete is paramount. Where there is clearly room for improvement, however, is in the way this entire episode was handled by the lower-level administrators whose job it was to liaise with Baptiste’s relatives.
It was only on Tuesday that Shanice’s mom heard from her, after almost two weeks of horror and uncertainty. Prior to Tuesday’s conversation, the last contact between mother and daughter was on March 12. Unknown to Shanice’s family, she fell ill on March 13 and was taken to a hospital. It was only seven days later that officials successfully informed the family about Shanice’s hospitalisation.
“Information came to the mother on the 20th that the child was at the hospital and would not be on the flight back to Trinidad. That was when we knew. Prior to that, we had no information,” said one of Shanice’s relatives.
We would like to believe administrators did their utmost to protect Shanice’s interests and to see that she received the necessary attention. However, based on the experience of her family, it is clear that a serious communication failure occurred. Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Shamfa Cudjoe is to be commended for personally intervening to deal with this situation. However, things should never have come to this.
The well-being of our athletes representing us abroad, and particularly our special Olympians, is no laughing matter and there should have been more vigilance to ensure that proper communication occurred. If a message was transmitted, there should have been confirmation of receipt. It was literally a matter of life and death for Shanice.
It is hoped Shanice, who competed with distinction in the preliminaries of the bocce event, will today arrive safe and sound and will receive, at long last, the homecoming she deserves.