“When I was a junior player, I said to my parents I will play professionally. They laughed. I said to them I will be senior sportsman of the year in Saint Lucia. They asked me if I think I am Darren Sammy.”
Revealed in January, the shortlist for Sportsman of the Year 2015 features cricket, athletics, swimming and boxing. Notably absent for the second year in a row was back-to-back volleyballer of the year, Julian Bissette.
Plying his trade in Greece, Julian celebrated his 25th birthday on 6 February, a week shy of the National Sports Awards gala ceremony. But it’s a bit of a bittersweet celebration for the rising star.
The Greek VolleyLeague is one of the best in the world, in the top 20 of the Confédération Européenne de Volleyball rankings. Julian was Most Valuable Player of the first half of the 2015-16 season.
His MVP award was based on leading the league in hitting and blocking, playing for Kiffisia in his second season. It’s a step up from being the statistical leader for a struggler, top five in both categories for relegated MENT.
But Julian’s omission from the shortlist – comprising javelin thrower Albert Reynolds; boxer Lyndell Marcellin; swimmer Jordan Augier; and batsman Johnson Charles – rankles. And he’s been vocal about it.
In an exclusive interview, Julian shared his feelings:
“I am disappointed that I didn’t get nominated. I respect the other athletes nominated, but noone can dispute that I deserve to be Sportsman of the Year or nominated. I just don’t know what to do, what I can say.
“I always realized I could play professional volleyball, but didn’t know how to get there until I met coach Joao. He told me i need to get to Brasil, meet coaches, agents, clubs, because everyone recognizes Brazilian volleyball.
“I took a risk; my father gave me a piece of land, I used it to take a loan, not knowing how I would pay this loan back if i didn’t make it as a professional. I didn’t get the club I wanted in Brasil, but I got contacts.”
The rest is history. The St Mary’s College alumnus got support from the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports to obtain his Greek visa, and set off on his great adventure. It’s safe to say he’s living his dreams.
Julian also worked for a time at Youth Development and Sports, coaching kids in volleyball. The same Ministry, though, adjudicates Sports Awards. And according to their rules, he’s just not good enough.
The Sports Personalities of the Year (Junior and Senior Men and Women) must ideally have accomplished locally, regionally and internationally. Each sport is allowed a single nomination in each category.
That leads to anomalies like 19-year-old volleyballer Skye Mondesir making the shortlist for women, but not for girls. And the top player in one of the top leagues in world volleyball being left out in the cold.
“As a professional, sometimes when I play for my country, it’s a real sacrifice. I refused 1000 Euros from MENT in 2014 so that I could go play for Saint Lucia at CAC in Mexico. But I was doing what I loved.
“I have lost more playing for my country than I received and despite the performance of my club and my individual performance for 2015 i have carried my country close to my heart, always wore the national jersey or colour.
“I carry my national flag wherever I go, I am proud of where I came from, proud of what I have accomplished, and I want the world to know. But this injustice of my fellow country men will not go unheard.
“So when people say I didn’t play national tournaments, I understand the criteria and the reasons, but what can I do about it? For me, just giving me an award as Volleyballer of the Year, it’s an underachievement.
“I finished first in blocking, first in attack, and I don’t get recognised and respected in my country. It’s disappointing, it’s embarrassing, it’s shameful, but what can I do, what can I say?”
Julian also played the Pan Am Games beach volleyball competition in 2015, alongside long-time partner Joseph Clercent. They finished 14th. Julian was in the top 10 in blocking, with 15 from five matches.
A few months prior, after their outing at the Central American and Caribbean Championships, Julian had recommended Joe for a contract with MENT. The two played half a season together in the Greek league.
But with Kiffisia riding high, atop the table, and led by their Caribbean import, there are matters to focus on, other than Sportsman of the Year. Bitter as the pill might be to swallow, Julian is taking it as good medicine.
“I will use this as motivation to win the championship. [Although] even if I win the championship, I don’t think they will recognise me as a special athlete in Saint Lucia.”