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Thema vs TTGF: Gymnastics body makes about-turn and requests arbitration

Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams’ civil suit against the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) as well as its former president David Marquez, first vice president Akil Wattley, second vice president Ricardo Lue Shue and his wife and assistant treasurer Donna Lue Shue opened today with its first case management conference by Justice Seepersad.

And the TTGF, which is represented by attorney Justin Junkere, contended that Williams cannot sue the Federation in the High Court, due to a dispute resolution clause in the athlete’s agreement with the local sporting body.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago international gymnast Thema Williams. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago international gymnast Thema Williams.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Williams is suing the gymnastic body for its decision to replace her with alternate, Marisa Dick, on Saturday 16 April 2016, just 24 hours before she was due to compete in Rio Olympics Test Event. She has requested TT$11.3 million in damages.

The 21-year-old gymnast is represented by Keith Scotland, Reza Ramjohn and Martin Daly SC.

The TTGF’s request for arbitration and the timing of its decision to do so, since Williams tried to invoke the same clause nine months ago in a last ditch effort to prove that the body’s move to replace her was irrational and contrary to natural justice.

Williams’ attorneys previously maintained that the gymnastics body did not even have the courtesy to respond to her call for arbitration at the time.

Famously, in the case of 13 Trinidad and Tobago World Cup 2006 players against the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association for unpaid bonuses, the football body similarly called for arbitration in London—on the eve of the matter going to the Port of Spain High Court—lost the case at the Sport Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP) and then tried to block the local courts from accepting the SDRP’s decision.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick (centre) talks to Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) first vice-president Akil Wattley (right) at a local gymnastics meet at the Tacarigua Indoor Sporting Facility on 23 April 2016. Looking on (bottom left) is Dick's mother, Hannifer Dick. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick (centre) talks to Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) first vice-president Akil Wattley (right) at a local gymnastics meet at the Tacarigua Indoor Sporting Facility on 23 April 2016.
Looking on (bottom left) is Dick’s mother, Hannifer Dick.
(Courtesy Wired868)

The TTFA’s legal footwork, choreographed by attorney Om Lalla, kept the matter in the courts for seven years.

It is left to be seen how the legal fencing plays out in this case.

Daly asked for the TTGF’s contention to be dealt with as a preliminary issue and Justice Seepersad agreed and set a timetable for the exchange of written submissions on the issue during the months of February and March. The Judge is then expected to give a decision by the end of March.

The TTGF’s attempted manoeuvre does not impact Williams’ case against Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues, who must all defend their own conduct in the matter of the change of athletes for the Olympics.

The quartet are represented legally by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC while Ronnie Bissessar appeared on their behalf at today’s case management.

Williams’ legal team contends that the four gymnastics officials: “conspired and combined together wrongfully and with the sole or predominant intention of injuring [the dream of Thema Williams] and/or causing loss to [Williams] by depriving her of the opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and/or by wrongfully and/or in the circumstances set out at paragraph 19 above promoting Marisa [Dick] at the expense of [Williams].

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation officials (from right) Ricardo Lue Shue, Elicia Peters-Charles and David Marquez pose with Sport Minister Darryl Smith (second from right). (Courtesy Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation officials (from right) Ricardo Lue Shue, Elicia Peters-Charles and David Marquez pose with Sport Minister Darryl Smith (second from right).
(Courtesy Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs)

“The motivation of the [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] was improper, wholly unreasonable, unfair, irrational and represented unadulterated opportunism to further a collateral purpose of victimisation and hatred of [Williams] and/or an illegitimate bias towards Marisa and/or a breach of the contractual obligations and/or duties owed to [Williams] by the Defendants or any of them.”

Marquez quit his role as TTGF president last August but it does not spare him the possible consequences of his actions.

At present, Andy Gomez-Burke is president of the local gymnastics body.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 15 years experience at several local and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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18 comments

  1. This a DELAY strategy < To cause frustration do not fall fpr . these so call mangem,ent freaks dont know what its a athleta has to go through to be on top , all they they know is free food Free flights a petty glories they would not have been able to archieve on their own

  2. Just a strategic tactic to buy time.

  3. Its really sad, TTGF taking thema for an ass, but justice will prevail

  4. Most of the NSOs have a stipulation that requires arbitration before legal action. This is a formality.

  5. What about the Canadian based sports lawyer? Wasn’t he on the team that is suing the individuals?

  6. Thema was mislead by folks who failed to understand what was taking place. High ego persons and relations.

    • Earl Best

      Oh? With a name like Hercules, you should be helping to clean the Augean Stables but I get the impression that you have been misled into thinking that there’s anything rotten in the State of Gymnasia.

      Well, you have a lot to learn, I hope.

      But the law is an ass so I am not at all certain that it is as simple as some people commenting here think it is. Two wrongs do not one right make so the fact that they didn’t use the facility when the request was made does not necessarily mean that that is not the UNAVOIDABLE “court” of first instance.

      Stranger things have happened in the annals of law-making.

  7. I hope Thema’s legal team is better able to cut out of the time wasting than was the case with the 2006 World Cup players. But I’m sure they will be.
    Maybe the fact that the footballers had a British lawyer meant they were at a disadvantage with the local time wasting tricks.

  8. Evidence of the request for arbitration should be all that is needed to reject these silly attempts to thwart justice for Thema. I will never understand the bureacracy of the courts…

  9. Smh!!!!! What happened when Thema asked to be heard in April 2016….. what happened? They ignored her, not so? Well now face the courts, that is all

  10. Is the boldfacedness I cannot take. All the time arbitration wasn’t nessa but now when you are being held accountable for your blatant bullshit and dishonesty you want arbitration and tribunal. Yuh was too busy for that for Thema but now it convenient. These ppl duz make yuh want to cuss a blue streak oui. Every judgement penny will they will heffin pay!

  11. De same arbitration they didn’t want? STEUPS!