Ripple effects of Covid-19 on Gambia’s Paralympics

May 28, 2021, 12:57 PM | Article By: Cherno Omar Bobb

The coronavirus pandemic has left no stone unturned and The Gambia National Paralympics Committee (GNPC) and persons with disability are no exceptions.

Since the outbreak, lives of persons with disability have changed as a result of the pandemic.

“Where able bodies struggle, minds go to disable bodies who need able bodies to make things better.”

Most persons with disabilities in The Gambia earn their living on daily basis through begging and skills to feed their families and government imposing restrictions, most persons with disabilities found it difficult to feed themselves and their families while staying at home.

Some of them with businesses had their businesses collapsed because they do not have the capital to sustain themselves.

Malang Tamba, a Paralympics athlete who is currently preparing for this year’s Paralympics Games, said the pandemic severely affected them.

He said they struggled to go for trainings at the independence stadium in Bakau during the pandemic.

Tamba won two bronze in the T54 100m, 200m and 400m race as well as gold in the 800m race during the 2021 Season Second Athletics Championship held in Tunis earlier this year. He said that with assistance from authorities, he can achieve more success for the country.

 “We are ready to fly the country’s flag high but government has to really support us,” he said.

Fatou Sanneh, also a Paralympics athlete, said the pandemic made life more difficult for them, and therefore called on government to consider and include them in the system.

She noted that they could not train the way they wanted as a result of the pandemic. She added that they are now intensifying their preparations to ensure they secure qualification to this year’s Tokyo Paralympics Games.

Demba Jarju, a Paralympics athlete, who represented The Gambia at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympics Games, said their trainings have not been good this year.

 “We should have been on the campus by now training together,” he highlighted, adding: “Sometimes we come to training hungry and when we go back home, we eat whatever we find there.”

“As athletes, we should have been eating good and healthy foods with good diets as well as properly taking care of our bodies but it is not possible because we lack assistance,” he stated, adding that “all our sacrifices are because of our love for The Gambia.”

Fatoumatta Jawara, an assistance Paralympics coach, said: “Paralympics athletes are not representing themselves in internationally competition but The Gambia and therefore should be fully supported,” she said.

Miss Jawara highlighted that transportation is a very big challenge for them as most drivers would refuse to carry them. She pointed out that folding and carrying their wheelchairs is, for some drivers, a waste of time.

“Paralympics athletes wheel their wheelchairs from their homes to the stadium and train, then wheel back their wheelchairs home,” she further said.

Momodou Gamo, Para power lifter, said they could not train the way they wanted because of the pandemic.

Gamo said government has been helpful but believes more could be done.  He noted that sport is not easy especially for persons with disabilities.

Hagie Drammeh, Para sports coach described the coronavirus pandemic period as one of the most difficult moments of their lives.

Mr. Drammeh added that sitting at home seriously affected persons with disabilities, but noted that going out and doing some activities will help them rehabilitate themselves.

He further stated that it was really difficult for some of them with businesses feeding from the income they had and at the same time maintain their businesses.

He noted that the only suitable facility for Paralympics athletes to train with their wheelchairs was the stadium which was closed. This, he said, really hindered their preparations.

He thanked The Gambia National Olympic Committee and Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Sports Council for their assistance, saying despite sponsorship continuously being a big challenge for them; these institutions have been really supportive. “Paralympics is beginning to see itself in the share of the national cake,” he said.

Abdoulie Jallow, secretary general, The Gambia National Olympics Committee, said GNOC is an institution of equal opportunity and therefore their duty is to support any association or federation that seeks to qualify for the games including the Paralympics games. 

Mr. Jallow added that on the sporting side, GNOC would do all within its means to support Paralympics athletes qualify.

“The association has been engaged to ensure we jointly look at sustainable ways of supporting these athletes.”

“However we want to ensure we find support for these athletes that would ensure they live a more dignified life than begging,” he stated.

He encouraged all athletes to continue to pursue their dreams of representing The Gambia. 

“The GNOC stands ready to support any association who has a path to games qualification,” he said.

Marcel Mendy, the executive director, National Sports Council (NSC), said they have always supported The Gambia National Paralympics Committee and other national sports associations, adding that they have been very supportive financially during their involvement in Paralympics Olympics qualifiers.

He noted that if it were not for government’s support (Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Sports Council), it would have been extremely difficult for the GNPC to travel and attend competitions.

“We will not relent in our assistance towards athletes and national sports associations because if they do well, it is the country that is doing well,” he stated.

ED Mendy assured all national associations of continuous government support, adding: “We hope to see Gambian Paralympics athletes qualify for the Games.”

The Gambia’s Ministry of Health confirmed the country’s first case of coronavirus on Tuesday March 17, 2020.

As of 21st May 2021, The Gambia officially registered 178 covid-19 related deaths and 5, 978 positive cases.

At 26,593 are already vaccinated against COVID-19 as of 18 May 2021, while 300 people have received their 2nd dose, bringing the total number to 26,893.