“When our minds should have been in training mode and preparing for Rio, they were directly derailing our focus with issues that should not have been.
“The Ministry has a system in place that is intended to help and facilitate athletes representing the country, but instead we feel as though they are against us and have become directly vindictive in the process of trying to stiff-arm us.”
The following press statement on deteriorating relations between the Ministry of Sport, Sport Minister Darryl Smith and Trinidad and Tobago international athletes was submitted by three-time Olympic sprinter and medalist Richard “Torpedo” Thompson:
Here we go again! It was brought to my attention that an “anonymous” source from the Ministry of Sport—quite possibly the same person who has never heard of Marc Burns—made a statement in response to mine recently [on the inability of Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic athletes to access funding from the Elite Athlete Assistance Programme].
This source was reportedly “not authorised to make a statement on the issue” [but] still proceeded to state that the athletes were not compliant with the format for receiving funding.
To begin with, the method in which we submitted our information to receive funding to prepare for 2016 was no different to the past eight years. People like Kelly-Ann Baptiste, Emanuel Callender, Keston Bledman, Marc Burns, as well as members of the 4x400m London Olympics Bronze medal team have all followed the precedented procedure.
I understand that based on questionable actions—unrelated to the athletes—from previous administrations, this current administration has to avoid a recurrence of such issues. However, in order for there to be a smooth transition and fair overlap for the athletes, a certain level of discretion and common sense has to be exercised.
In order to be reimbursed the money spent to prepare for the 2016 season, we are being asked to present receipts from two years ago (2014-15). Had this been the procedure that we followed for close to a decade, or had there been some sort of indication that physical receipts were going to be demanded, we would have kept them and gladly turned them in.
When our minds should have been in training mode and preparing for Rio, they were directly derailing our focus with issues that should not have been.
The Ministry has a system in place that is intended to help and facilitate athletes representing the country, but instead we feel as though they are against us and have become directly vindictive in the process of trying to stiff-arm us.
The sensible thing for them to do would have been to acknowledge the fact that there was a different system prior to their governance and facilitate our preparations with warning that there was going to be a different procedure being introduced moving forward—and failure to comply with that would result in ineligibility to receive funds. Simple.
Instead, they have made this into an Administration vs Athlete issue and many athletes across many different sporting disciplines have been left stranded.
Contrary to popular belief, several Olympians/national athletes do not have contracts and depend solely on the Government’s assistance to prepare. When funding comes late, or not at all, the chances of having the success that the entire country expects are slim to none.
Several of our T&T athletes face these challenges and are placed at an automatic disadvantage. Many disciplines like hockey, rugby, swimming, judo, cycling, table tennis, women’s football and other sports are afraid to speak out about their challenges to the media because they are afraid to be blacklisted and then not receive any funding at all.
But how do we expect to see progress or greatness internationally when these people are making phone call after phone call and sending email after email with not even the courtesy of a reply?
Both Marc Burns and Ade Alleyne-Forte have not received funding since 2013. These are both London 2012 Olympic medalists. In efforts to mount the podium again in 2016 they reached out to the Government in Olympic desperation to no avail.
Alleyne-Forte was forced to find a night job in order to cover some of his very basic needs and stayed by Jarrin Solomon’s dad because he couldn’t afford to pay to rent. This is an Olympic medalist people—and also someone who had recent success as a part of the 2016 World indoor Championship 4x400m Bronze medal team.
One has to question where the funding allocated for elite athletes has gone seeing that the vast majority of us have not received it. Maybe the “anonymous” source should address this issue.
I will also make it very clear that I have zero political agenda and that this post is not to try to make the current Government look bad. I have represented the country long enough to see the flawed system under both the PNM and UNC and have actually expressed my disapproval under both governing bodies. But I have had enough of our athletes being taken advantage of—especially when there’s the level of criticism as there was by the nation subsequent to Rio.
In November, I messaged the Minister via What’s App with a humble request to come to the office to have a conversation about these same issues. No reply! (Of which I have proof).
Mind you, this is the day after I was asked to accompany him at the track for a media release. Pictures, hand shakes, the usual politicking… then Casper came into effect.
I do not want to hear from any more “anonymous” sources from the Ministry. This is what we have a Minister for—to address issues like these, not delegate responsibility. I have tried to cooperate with Minister Darryl Smith and his officials without having to make public statements but he has failed to deliver. So I’m left with no other choice.
This is already very lengthy, so I’ll leave it at this. Both the athletes and administration have the same goals for our country. Let us find a way to achieve these results with as little complications as possible.
This can only be accomplished through proper communication. I patiently await a hearing from the relevant individuals.