‘COOL’ RE­SPONSE FROM BOBSLEIGH ICON OVER CON­TRO­VER­SIAL FLOAT

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - JES­SICA WAL­FORD AND KATIE SANDS Re­porters news­desk@waleson­line.co.uk

O NE of the ath­letes who in­spired the hit film Cool Run­nings says he un­der­stands why peo­ple would be of­fended af­ter a car­ni­val float was ac­cused of be­ing “racist” af­ter the peo­ple on it painted their faces black, but added that in his opin­ion “there are more im­por­tant is­sues”.

The Aber­aeron Car­ni­val, which was held on Mon­day, hit the head­lines af­ter a group of men on a float wore black body­paint and Ly­cra suits to dress up as char­ac­ters from the film Cool Run­nings for the pa­rade.

The men sparked a po­lice probe af­ter com­plaints were made to of­fi­cers about their out­fits.

Devon Har­ris, now Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Ja­maica Bobsleigh Fed­er­a­tion, said he didn’t think the men meant any harm by dress­ing up but said he un­der­stood why peo­ple would be of­fended.

And he added that he was “flat­tered” peo­ple still look up to him.

He said: “I have young adult kids who were born and raised in Amer­ica and I dis­cussed this with them, and they have very dif­fer­ent views from mine.

“I un­der­stand given the his­tory of black­face in the theatre why peo­ple would be of­fended. I didn’t go for that.”

He added: “When some­body does that you have to then fig­ure out or ask your­self is this ha­tred or big­otry or some­one hav­ing fun?

If you con­clude it’s ha­tred and big­otry, then you have a rea­son to be up­set. But there are more im­por­tant is­sues.”

Devon had pre­vi­ously spo­ken to Wales On­line about the in­ci­dent and said: This has hap­pened a num­ber of times. I’m not naive. There’s racism.

“There’s lots of mean and big­oted peo­ple all over the world.

“This par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent in Wales I think it’s a reach too far, but that’s only my opin­ion. I know that lots of peo­ple are go­ing to not be happy with my opin­ion.

“I think we have to be wise enough to de­ter­mine whether this par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent was meant or done with big­otry and ha­tred in mind.

“I don’t be­lieve (it was) on the face of it.”

When asked if the in­ci­dent had been blown out of pro­por­tion, he said: “It’s pos­si­ble. Race re­la­tions and racism, it’s a very emo­tional topic.

“I’m try­ing to take a dis­pas­sion­ate ap­proach.

“Those guys dress­ing up as the Ja­maican Bobsleigh Team, paint­ing their faces black – was that meant to dis­play ha­tred and big­otry? I guess you have a right to be up­set if your an­swer is ‘yes’. My per­cep­tion is the an­swer is ‘no’.”

Cool Run­nings was the story of four Ja­maican ath­letes who dream of be­com­ing Ja­maica’s first ever bobsleigh team to com­pete in the 1988 Win­ter Olympics in Cal­gary.

But Devon, who went on to com­pete and cap­tain in two more Win­ter Olympics – in 1992 in Al­bertville, France, and 1998 in Nagano, Ja­pan, ac­tu­ally started off as an as­pir­ing track and field star.

His aim was to rep­re­sent Ja­maica in the Los An­ge­les Olympic Games in 1984 in the 800m and 1500m events but that didn’t hap­pen.

In­stead, he went to mil­i­tary school, study­ing at the Royal Mil­i­tary Acad­emy Sand­hurst and be­came a mil­i­tary of­fi­cer. He served in the of­fi­cer corps of the Ja­maica De­fence Force un­til De­cem­ber 1992 when he re­tired as a Cap­tain.

But, with the en­cour­age­ment of his Colonel, Alan Dou­glas, he replied to an ad­vert in an army pub­li­ca­tion called Force Or­ders that called for peo­ple to “un­dergo rig­or­ous and dan­ger­ous train­ing” to rep­re­sent Ja­maica in the Win­ter Olympics.

He went to the team se­lec­tions and had the fastest push off time. The rest is his­tory.

Now Devon works as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker with his char­ity, the Keep On Push­ing Foun­da­tion, which sup­ports the ed­u­ca­tion of chil­dren in dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas around the globe.

He also wrote a chil­dren’s book, Yes, I Can!, as well as tak­ing on the role of Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Ja­maica Bobsleigh Fed­er­a­tion, de­vel­op­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of bob­sled­ders.

“It is some­thing I’m pas­sion­ate about,” he said.

Look­ing back on his time on the team and the im­pact he had, Devon said he was “flat­tered” that peo­ple still look up to him – even if it was on a car­ni­val float.

He said: “Peo­ple are still en­thralled by the story – that’s what I chose to fo­cus on – the fact that we had this pro­lific and pos­i­tive im­pact.”

The Cool Run­nings float at Aber­aeron Car­ni­val which caused con­tro­versy and a po­lice probe be­cause the men on it wore black body paint

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