Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams’ dream of representing her country are now in the hands of her attorneys, after the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) removed her as the country’s athlete for the 2016 Rio Olympics Test event with just hours to go.
The TTGF decision, which was revealed via a press statement, was allegedly taken as a result of the 20-year-old Williams’ supposedly substandard performances in training.
Marisa Dick, the TTGF’s alternative, will fly in to Rio to take her place. TTGF second vice-president Ricardo Lue Shue, who is also a former president of the local body, will also travel to Brazil to act as Dick’s coach.
Williams, who is represented by attorney Keith Scotland and also receives legal advice from Emir Crowne, has until this evening to try to overturn the TTGF’s decision.
Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis told Wired868 that he was informed of the TTGF’s decision via an email, which he forwarded to the sporting body’s attorney.
However, he is unsure as to what—if anything—the TTOC can do now. Lewis said the matter appears to be between the TTGF and its global governing body, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). The TTOC will not comment further without legal advice.
“I have received information but, to be very candid, I am not commenting,” Lewis told Wired868. “I am making no statement until I am properly legally advised. From what I am seeing, it is between the FIG and the TTGF…
“When deemed appropriate by legal counsel, the TTOC will make a statement.”
So far, calls to TTGF president David Marquez and general secretary Elicia Peters Charles have gone unanswered.
The TTGF decision is likely to be seen by many as a late twist in a battle between Williams and the board, which arguably started on the day that she qualified for the Olympics Test Event.
Williams and Dick both participated at last year’s Glasgow World Artistic Gymnastics (WAG) Championships and, according to their pre-tournament contracts, the better gymnast at the event would go to Rio.
Williams placed 59th overall—a record for a Trinidad and Tobago gymnast—while Dick placed 77th out of 192 participants.
But Williams’ triumph was quickly soured as the TTGF inexplicably failed to announce her as their Olympic athlete. In the end, it took an intervention from the TTOC before the gymnastics body vouched for the former Tots and Tumblers athlete and St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) student.
However, there was a caveat as the local gymnastics body gave Williams and Dick pre-Olympic contracts, which introduced a good behaviour clause and suggested that the former could be replaced for poor performance leading up the competition.
The TTGF tried to use the behavioural clause first, as a topless photo of Williams was released by a mysterious “Kamara Heinz” on February 23 and the local body promptly sent her to the disciplinary committee for action.
Scotland subsequently said his investigations suggestions that Kamara Heinz did not exist.
“As part of our due diligence, your first port of call must be to identify your complainant, because what triggered all of this was an email from this concerned parent,” said Scotland. “We checked with every single (gymnastics) club in Trinidad and Tobago and there was no ‘Georgette Heinz’. We then looked at the white pages. There was no one…
“We checked the electoral list and the EBC database. (And still nothing).
“We checked the email address. And what we do know (is the email address) was assigned to someone in Arizona.
“When we reached Arizona, we stopped there. We didn’t want to go any further lest we ended up in Calgary…”
Williams’ coach, John Geddert, was incredulous: “In today’s world of national team athletes posing full nudity in major publications, was this photo of an exposed shoulder seriously considered “pornography?”
If the photograph was an attempt to snatch Williams’ Olympics Test berth, it backfired as another anonymous poster fired back by leaking a topless shot of Dick.
Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader and trade unionist, David Abdulah, who the TTGF brought in to serve as a mediator, hinted that Williams had been improperly sent to the disciplinary committee in the first place.
“There was just one disciplinary meeting (with the TTGF) and the recommendation was made to refer the matter back to the council,” Abdulah told Wired868. “I have not heard anything since, so it is really for the council to say what they were doing.”
On 15 March 2016, just one day before the deadline to name an athlete for the Rio event, the TTGF finally endorsed Williams.
“Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation has officially confirmed Ms Thema Williams (as per the press release of November 2015),” stated the TTGF release, “the FIG Elite Gymnast to participate and represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Aquece Final Gymnastics Qualifier which takes place 13 to 18 April 2016.”
However, the TTGF still insisted that it had the option to remove Williams if there was an issue regarding her fitness.
“In accordance with the athlete agreement, both gymnasts must submit a medical report/clearance to compete, in the weeks leading up to the Test Event—to ensure their continued fitness,” stated the TTGF, on March 15. “In his 2016 January to March monthly reports, Williams’ coach John Geddert advised the Federation that the young gymnast has not yet been able to train landings because of a knee injury.
This situation will be monitored closely to ensure that Thema will be competition ready for her Test Event.
“The TTGF congratulates Thema Williams and wishes her continued success.”
Williams landed in Brazil earlier this week looking forward to fulfilling her dream of wearing red, black and white at the Olympic Games.
Yesterday, Williams made one post on her Twitter page: “Who Jah bless, no man curse.”
And, on a black backdrop, the words “Jah put me here” were printed in bold white letters.
God giveth. But, for reasons that remain unclear, the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation took it away.
The Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation comprises of president David Marquez, general secretary Elicia Peters-Charles, first vice president Akil Wattley, second vice president, Ricardo Lue Shue—who was president of the body from 2008 to 2015 and will serve as Dick’s coach in Brazil—treasurer Susanne Babooram and Lue Shue’s wife, Donna Lue Shue, who serves as assistant treasurer.