‘Blood-letting must stop’
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, July 1 2012
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PROUD MOMENT: Beetham resident Afdera Scott proudly shows off the keys to her new home after they were presented to her by Prime Minister Kamla Persad...
Retired American basketball superstar, Shaquille O’Neal, will spearhead a million-dollar sporting and social intervention initiative aimed at stemming the nation’s crime problem, particularly in depressed communities, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday.
Delivering the feature address at a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) key distribution ceremony at the Beetham Gardens’ Multi-Purpose Sporting Facility, Beetham Gardens, Laventille, Persad-Bissessar said the basketball initiative, called “Hoop of Life — Sweat 2012,” is expected to be launched on July 21 and will feature competitions throughout the country.
The ground-breaking initiative, developed by the HDC, National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) and the Ministries of National Security and Sport, may very well be the People’s Partnership Government latest crime-fighting measure, although Persad-Bissessar did not overtly indicate this during her address.
The Prime Minister said teams in winner’s row at the end of the competition will receive cash prizes of $1 million, $500,000 and $250,000 for first, second and third places respectively.
Persad-Bissessar lamented that the country was losing too many young people to crime.
“Each day, the news is filled with stories of sons and daughters of our soil, of blood spilled, their lives cut short by criminal activity,” she said, reading from a prepared speech.
“The blood-letting must stop. We have to find a way to make a shift in the consciousness of our youth and to get the communities behind them. We have to launch a major offensive and that is what we are calling the ‘Shaq Attack on the problem of crime and juvenile delinquency.’”
Describing O’Neal as a “towering giant of kindness and compassion,” a casually-dressed Persad-Bissessar told Beetham Gardens residents that O’Neal, who last played for the Miami Heat, recently received his doctorate from a Miami university after having risen from modest beginnings in Newark, New Jersey. She said he began playing basketball at age 12 and eight years later, started playing the sport professionally in the NBA.
“Hoop of Life,” the Prime Minister said, will also have spin-off benefits to communities, including participation by community deejays, skills displays to encourage audience participation for prizes and women’s matches. A key component of the initiative will be that players must reside within the community and have no criminal record at the date at which the games begin, she said.
“Once you are in the games, you must have no criminal record. If you do, you will be disqualified. I will go further, if you import people from other communities, those persons will also be disqualified,” she said.
The Prime Minister said every member of the teams will be given a stipend from phase two of the initiative, for as long as the team remains in active competition.
In his turn at the podium, the towering O’Neal, who sat alongside Persad-Bissessar, said although he was not “the smartest man in the world,” he always maintained a positive attitude toward life.
O’Neal admitted to being lazy in his youth, but said all that changed when he got a basketball from his father. He urged youngsters to heed the advice and wisdom of their parents.
O’Neal elicited chuckles from the audience when he said he planned to return to Trinidad next year for Carnival.
Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Persad-Bissessar said she did not know the cost attached to O’Neal’s visit to this country.
“I cant say. You have to speak to Jearlean John (HDC managing director) and the others. I can’t say the cost,” she told reporters.
“So far, what has happened has not been at cost to the Government. No cost to the Government.”
She hailed O’Neal as “a great man.”
“We are very happy to have him here. What will be next is the Life Sport programme. Funding will come out of that and the basketball is one aspect of it. So the Minister of Sport (Anil Roberts) will be able to give you a better idea of what is happening,” she said.
Laventille MPs Donna Cox and Ni Leung Hypolite did not attend yesterday’s event.
Persad-Bissessar also presided over a key distribution ceremony and launch of another Hoop of Life initiative at Train Line, Marabella, yesterday.