Home / Rio 2016 / Rio (w)rap II: TTOC boss on missing chef de mission, Dick, Ato’s advice and Vision 2024

Rio (w)rap II: TTOC boss on missing chef de mission, Dick, Ato’s advice and Vision 2024

“Okay, so if Brian Lewis is an idiot and an A-hole and 10 golds by 2024 is pie-in-the-sky, then is it two bronze medals by 2024? Is it twelve finalists by 2024? Is it no medals by 2024?

“Surely, whether it’s one cent or a million spent, we must have measurables, we must have key performance indicators?”

TTOC boss Brian Lewis sat down with Wired868 to set the record straight on a few important things. Here is the second part of that wide-ranging September 2016 interview with editor Lasana Liburd. Part One was published last week.

Photo: TTOC president Brian Lewis (right) and NAAA president Ephraim Serrette. (Courtesy NAAA)
Photo: TTOC president Brian Lewis (right) and NAAA president Ephraim Serrette.
(Courtesy NAAA)

Wired868: Alright. And to the matter of the chef de mission [Dr Ian Hypolite] who, according to one of the explanations, informed the TTOC beforehand…

Brian Lewis [interjects]: One of his explanations was very clear. He would have brought it to the President of the Olympic Committee. And the President of the Olympic Committee, after considering all, the totality of the facts that were before the Olympic Committee, the President of the Olympic Committee would have approved the dual role.

Wired868Okay. Did you know beforehand how many hours he would have been on ESPN and how long he would have been away from his duties essentially? 

Lewis: What I knew was… What I would have had to consider was the structure we had in place, with a deputy chef. We also had Dr [Terry] Ali. So what we would have done—again, context is a very interesting thing—what I would have created was something called a Games Management Committee that is chaired by the Secretary General, Annette Knott…

Wired868That’s the same committee that decided on…?

Lewis [interjects]: The same. That’s the Games Management Committee that, along with legal advice, would have considered the gymnastics issue. So what we had in Rio would have been a deputy chef in Lovie Santana. who was the Senior Administration Officer for the TTOC, and her strong point is administration.

Then you had the Team Manager in terms of the various team managers. We also had present there the Secretary General, who’s also the chair of the Games Management Committee. Then you had Dr Terry Ali, the Chief Medical Staff, who is also a member of the Games Management Committee…

Photo: Dr Ian Hypolite, Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) executive member and Rio 2016 Olympic chef de mission.
Photo: Dr Ian Hypolite, Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) executive member and Rio 2016 Olympic chef de mission.

Wired868 [interjects]: What was Dr Hypolite’s specific role there?

Lewis: He was the chef de mission.

Wired868And what does that specifically entail? Because we have looked, of course, at the chef de mission’s role in other countries. Like we saw, in Canada and Jamaica, they were involved with…

Lewis [interjects]: And there’s also the chef de mission’s role in the US and British Olympic Associations. From where I sit—having been a chef, etcetera—I wanted to evolve the chef’s role as a leader. So that the chef was, in fact, a CEO kind of chairperson. And you have deputy chef, you have the various team managers and that was one of the contexts that I would have considered.

And also the fact that, as I was telling you earlier on, that CBI was responsible for the broadcast and the partnership with ESPN was to deliver the broadcast rights. So again, the TTOC was a shareholder of CBI Limited which, as I said, is CANOC Broadcast Limited.

So I would have factored that in, in terms of Trinidad and Tobago’s support for what the CBI was trying to deliver in terms of the broadcast for the Games. I also would have considered that it did not violate the IOC’s accreditation rule—but had it done that, then it would have been a whole different kettle of fish.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Lalonde Gordon (left) receives the baton from Jarrin Solomon during the men’s 4x400m relay heat at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 19 August 2016. (Copyright Johannes Eisele/AFP 2016/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Lalonde Gordon (left) receives the baton from Jarrin Solomon during the men’s 4x400m relay heat at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 19 August 2016.
(Copyright Johannes Eisele/AFP 2016/Wired868)

Wired868So is it a case then that a lot of his duties would have been done by the deputy chef de mission?

Lewis: No, I think it is a case that he would have had the responsibility to ensure that everything that was required to be done would have been done. Whether he would have delegated to various people based on specifics, that was his role and responsibility as the chairman of the delegation to allocate. I don’t think he did not conduct his responsibilities.

Wired868: But some things obviously would have been taking place while he was on air so he wouldn’t have been able to react—like with the relay teams and so on…

Lewis: Let me just clarify that. The relay team issue has never been handled by a chef since I’ve been with the TTOC—and I’ve also been a chef. Issues that are specific to a sport is why you have a team manager for the sport and a head coach.

Wired868So, as a chef, what type of issues did you deal with?  

Lewis: You have overall issues. I mean you have to… Again, just like any CEO, just like any chairman, you have overall responsibility for the delegation. But as I said the key part of that…

Wired868 [interjects]: But that’s the part we are looking at, you see. When decisions had to be made, whether or not the CEO is there to…

Lewis [interjects]: Decisions like what? Specify, specify decisions like what?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Khalifa St Fort (right) grabs the baton from teammate Kelly Ann Baptiste in the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay Round 1 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 18 August 2016. (Copyright Jewel Samad/AFP 2016)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Khalifa St Fort (right) grabs the baton from teammate Kelly Ann Baptiste in the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay Round 1 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 18 August 2016.
(Copyright Jewel Samad/AFP 2016)

Wired868Of course the…

Lewis [interjects]: Let me reiterate, Lasana. In the issues related specifically to track and field, any sport, it is the remit of the team manager and the head coach, from a technical perspective. When I was a chef, we’d have general meetings… It’s held early in the morning [and deals with] issues related to the overall order and different things… You have that meeting with your general team, just like a manager or a CEO would have… Issues that crop up, you delegate how you deal with it… So that is how it has been constructed.

Wired868Okay. So with the protest, is there a cost to making an appeal? 

Lewis: Whatever is the requirement, whatever it is related to that, that’s dealt with at the level of the sport…

Wired868 [interjects]: But if there’s a cost to the protest, then the track officials are not using their own money, they’re using TTOC money. You will think that, in those cases, or if the medical staff had something of an urgent nature happening

Lewis [interjects]: Let me reiterate, the relay process was the remit of the team manager. If there was a cost, the team manager deals with that and there’s a reimbursement or whatever. We don’t say, ‘Well, okay, today we’ll expect this protest so walk with that.’  That’s not how the system works.

Wired868And that’s why I would have expected before they act and before they pay that cost…

Lewis [interjects]: Whatever cost there would have been, the team manager will deal with that. And if it is that you say at the next meeting that I paid the cost for the protest, it was a US$150, we’ll take care of the reimbursement. We’ll not say, “No. I’m not reimbursing you, that’s for your cost.’ I don’t know what else to say.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender and Rondel Sorrillo watch the electronic scoreboard after their disqualification from the 4x100 metre event during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender and Rondel Sorrillo watch the electronic scoreboard after their disqualification from the 4×100 metre event during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868Many company CEOs don’t operate in that way, eh. That they allow people to act and tell them about it later because…

Lewis [interjects]: No. You’re taking a lot of what I’m saying out of context. I refuse to accept that because, at the end of the day, once you delegate, people have a responsibility for things. Alright? So that that is something in fact that George Commissiong, who was the [track and field] manager and has gone to more than one Games, he ought to have been able to deal with all issues competently.

Wired868Okay, so are you satisfied with the operation, how it was handled with Dr Hypolite as chef de mission and commentating for ESPN?

Lewis: Again, I am still awaiting the actual written report from the chef, the medical report (and) the individual team managers’ reports. Of course, as I said, we had the Secretary General there. And once those reports are in, we’ll normally have a review process and identify issues, things that need to be changed going forward, what worked, what didn’t work…

Wired868Okay. As of now, you remain comfortable with your decision?

Lewis: As of now, I stand by [all] of the decisions; I can’t take it back.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Marisa Dick goes through her routine on the balance beam at the Rio Olympic Games on 7 August 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Marisa Dick goes through her routine on the balance beam at the Rio Olympic Games on 7 August 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Wired868Okay but would you make the same decision again for the next Games? What do you see as the benefit of that decision? 

Lewis: What I see as the benefit of the decision? As I said at the time and with the totality of the facts, there was no issue in regard to the IOC’s accreditation rules. I felt that if there was an opportunity—given the structure that we had put in place—for the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee to give further support to the efforts of CBI Limited, that I should do it. So I have no regrets about the thinking that would have gone into approving the decision.

Wired868Did anybody from CBI approach the TTOC directly to ask for the chef de mission to be seconded to ESPN

Lewis: No. They would not have approached the TTOC directly. He was very clear in an interview that appeared in the papers…

Wired868 [interjects]: Well, I can’t go by the papers…

Lewis [interjects]: I’m just telling you. But you’re aware so don’t try to play clever with me. You knew that he said he had applied to ESPN, as had other people in Trinidad and Tobago broadcast.

Wired868Well, when you said you were helping the CBI, you didn’t say that they didn’t ask you for that help…

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago javelin star Keshorn Walcott prepares to launch his javelin during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago javelin star Keshorn Walcott prepares to launch his javelin during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Lewis [interjects]: What I’m saying is, let me repeat, the structure that we had put in place—this Games Management structure—I had real confidence in. It did not violate the IOC’s accreditation rules and then there was the additional aspect of the CBI Limited and what they were trying to do on behalf of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees, which was historic. It had never been done in the context of the IOC giving the broadcast rights to national Olympic committees, alright? And it was Caribbean-focused…

I’m saying that that also played on my mind because the TTOC is a partner in CANOC and we’re very involved in CANOC and the betterment and furtherance of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees in the Caribbean. And we are, like all the other national Olympic committees, a shareholder in the CBI Limited. So I’m saying that that factored in, in terms of additional support. So I can’t have a regret about giving that.

In fact, I don’t have a regret about the decision. If that was put to me and I went forward as the president for 2020, would I make the same decision? Again, given hindsight is 20/20, it would be interesting to see what would happen.

Wired868That’s not a yes or a no. What would you make the decision based on then? 

Lewis: Well, I know it wouldn’t have the important element of supporting CBI Limited. Because CBI Limited, already it’s known, didn’t get the television rights.

Photo: Jamaica's Elaine Thompson celebrates winning the Women's 100m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 13 August 2016.  Trinidad and Tobago's Michelle-Lee Ahye is second from left. (Copyright AFP 2016/Franck Fife)
Photo: Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson celebrates winning the Women’s 100m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 13 August 2016. 
Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye is second from left.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Franck Fife)

Wired868Although CBI hasn’t said what their share of the TV rights are and when it can be distributed or anything like that?

Lewis: That would depend on CBI. CBI Limited is a company under the Companies’ Act and there are obligations and duties under the Companies’ Act and the Articles that I’m sure that CBI would…

Wired868 [interjects]: Okay. But beforehand, you all, the different Olympic bodies across the Caribbean, should have the information in terms of when the CBI will act. Because they’re doing something on behalf of you all, right?

Lewis: But, Lasana, again, why you going down…? You can’t expect a company to produce financials two week after an event.

Wired868 [interjects]: No. But I would know the date that they’re going to. We would know beforehand, Olympics are on this date and this day…

Lewis [interjects]: You should direct that to the CBI. I am not even on the board of CBI. We are shareholders, so we would expect within a reasonable time. I mean we have the CANOC General Assembly in October [2016] in Guadeloupe. I expect by then we will get [some financial information].

[Lewis was elected as CANOC president, a month after our interview].

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis (left) with a delegate at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. (Courtesy TTOC)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis (left) with a delegate at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
(Courtesy TTOC)

Wired868Alright. And gymnastics? On the same day that you all announced that Marisa Dick would go to the Olympics, the TTOC said it would have to look into Rule 13…

Lewis: Rule 13?

Wired868And that it was likely that there would be some sort of announcement with regards to that long before the Olympics. But that didn’t happen…

Lewis: I didn’t say that there would be some kind of announcement. I could never have said that. There’s no track record. What I said is that a committee would be constituted…

Wired868Was a committee constituted? 

Lewis: Yes.

Wired868Has anything happened?

Lewis: The committee was constituted. Yes.

Wired868Okay. Can you tell me who’s on the committee?

Lewis: I’m not… [Pauses] Again, there are some legal issues that have come up and again it’s very challenging…

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnasts Thema Williams (right) and Marisa Dick pose for a photograph while sightseeing in Rio, after the Olympic Test event on 17 April 2016. (Courtesy Hannifer Dick)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnasts Thema Williams (right) and Marisa Dick pose for a photograph while sightseeing in Rio, after the Olympic Test event on 17 April 2016.
(Courtesy Hannifer Dick)

Wired868Can you give me any idea what the legal issues are?

Lewis: The legal issues are related to the well-publicised things that are in the public domain.

Wired868That’s not very specific.

Lewis: How do you mean?

Wired868Can you give more specifics about the legal issues?

Lewis: Lasana, don’t do me that, nah; there’s a court matter…

Wired868Okay, so you mean it’s been delayed because of…

Lewis [interjects]: It’s not being delayed. Go and do your research. There is a court matter and you’re going to have an enquiry and call people to an enquiry to do what?

Wired868To see if they were in breach of Rule 13? Isn’t that what the…

Lewis [interjects]: No. You go and find any precedent where that has not been stopped.

Wired868Has the Committee met? 

Lewis: Yes.

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)

Wired868Have they made a decision not to… What exactly have they done?

Lewis: I’m not at liberty to say that. You don’t understand the legal constraints that this is facing. You all want to have all the information…

Wired868 [interjects]: No. We’re just asking for an update…

Lewis [interjects]: What I am saying is that there have been some legal complications that have continued and, at this point, I have been told that I have to await a legal opinion.

Wired868Okay. I guess that’s related to the court case? 

Lewis: Uhn-hmm.

Wired868Okay. What is your take on criticism from Keshorn Walcott and other athletes who said that the camp wasn’t unified and that they didn’t feel the support that they wanted?

Lewis: Well, I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to Keshorn. So I’m sure that I’ll have the opportunity when he’s back. I’m still awaiting the various reports and, just as we did with London 2012, we took on board the views of the athletes in trying to put together the 2016 camp. Whatever issues and challenges there may have been, we will take it on board and see how we could improve the Tokyo 2020 camp.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympians Jehue Gordon (left) and Emmanuel Callender catch the bus during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympians Jehue Gordon (left) and Emmanuel Callender catch the bus during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

The only issue I’m aware of was that, unlike the London 2012 camp, not all the athletes were able to come into the camp at the same time. So, I think that is an issue that we all need to sit down and talk about because that didn’t happen in London 2012. So I know that that would have been a concern.

That was a choice some of [the athletes’] coaches made to be very blunt… As I said, the Olympic Games is such an intense stress test. I think that at the end of the day you learn from it and you move on. I’m just saying—people may take this the wrong way—you don’t really dwell on things you know. You focus and say: what are the elements, what did I do right if anything and what didn’t go according to plan and what did we do wrong or what mistakes were made. You address it and you go on.

Wired868What would you do differently in hindsight? 

Lewis: I don’t know I haven’t received the reports yet. As I said, in London 2012 we had everybody in so I am sure that would have impacted certain things…

I can’t allow negativity or our failure to meet our expectations to make us lose confidence and faith in the athletes and lose confidence and faith in the effort we are making to transform this sport system… You hear people from within sports and the sport system, be it coaches or it might be administrators, criticising certain things and you ask yourself ‘Well, why didn’t they do something?’ You know there are a lot of people that are very aware of some of the specific challenges…

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Sport Minister Darryl Smith (left) has a laugh with NAAA president Ephraim Serrette at the 2016 NAAA Open Championships at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 25 June 2016. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Sport Minister Darryl Smith (left) has a laugh with NAAA president Ephraim Serrette at the 2016 NAAA Open Championships at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 25 June 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868 [interjects]: Are you speaking here about sport administrators themselves?

Lewis: I’m talking about sports administrators, I’m talking about coaches, I’m talking about supporters, fans. There are a lot of people who are very close to sports—[or] sport organisations, sport clubs—and my thing about it is we have to be the change we want to see. It’s more than talk, it’s about doing.

As I told one coach, you have all these ideas and all these concepts as to what is being done wrong. Okay. How about working towards, in your field, producing an Olympic champion in four years or eight years? What are you as a coach doing? What are you as an administrator doing? What is your club doing? If each of us focuses on improving and building capacity and being the change that we want to see, we may make progress.

Wired868Okay, well, looking back again at the Olympics, what did you feel were the key issues for us in not meeting expectations?

Lewis: If you look at the breakdown of the seven finalists. You have the 400, you have the 4 x 400, you have the javelin, you have the 100m and 200m women… So if you break it down, okay so Michelle-Lee Ahye finished fifth and sixth, she broke a national record. Machel Cedenio broke a national record and one that stood for 24 years. Keshorn finished third. He threw 88 in the Games before, fine, but what he threw in the actual [2016] final was greater than the distance he threw to win the gold medal…

What I’m saying is, at the end of the day, that’s sport. If it is that we didn’t have semi-finalists and we didn’t have people setting national records and personal bests—and you look at somebody like Dylan Carter, who broke a national record at 20, you look at the fact that Machel Cedenio is at 20. To me, it’s about what do we do to continue to improve.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Dylan Carter competes in the 200m Freestyle final at the 13th FINA World Swimming Championships at the WFCU Centre on 7 December 2016 in Windsor Ontario, Canada. (Copyright AFP 2017/Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Dylan Carter competes in the 200m Freestyle final at the 13th FINA World Swimming Championships at the WFCU Centre on 7 December 2016 in Windsor Ontario, Canada.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Wired868You mentioned the relay teams and Ato Boldon said they had barely practised. What can you tell us about that?

Lewis: Again, that is a discussion that I think needs to be had. But we have to be realistic. We’re dealing with different camps and different coaches internationally so how do we come to an agreement going forward for Tokyo 2020?

I know that Ato put forward a proposal in terms of the relay and I think we have to respect Ato’s view and feeling.

Wired868What was his idea? 

Lewis: To have all the relay teams meet ever so often to have like a relay camp that you structure it around when all the athletes are at a meet… It’s a concept that has merit and it’s a concept that I would certainly like to see considered and implemented. But realistically, as I said, there’re some challenges to surmount.

In the context of track and field, that’s the same challenge that countries such as America, even Jamaica, would have from time to time. When you have world-class athletes in different camps with different coaches, you will always have that challenge.

I remember when we were trying to organise the summit, the Michael Johnson Performance Workshop, I personally had to call the coaches to try to get them to support by sending their athletes.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Richard Thompson (third from right) prepares to chase Jamaica star Asafa Powell (centre), as he receives the baton from Usain Bolt at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Richard Thompson (third from right) prepares to chase Jamaica star Asafa Powell (centre), as he receives the baton from Usain Bolt at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Some coaches did and some coaches felt that it was going to interrupt their program. I’m saying to you that there will always be that problem. But having said that, we have to figure out a way.

Wired868Alright. And looking forward now, do we continue with what you’ve been doing for the last three years? Do you have different ideas now?

Lewis: I think that one of the things that I—if I have the opportunity going forward—would like to do is to accelerate even more some of the transformative things that need to be done. I think that we need to embrace technology in a greater way in the context of sports science, bio-mechanics and some of those things. I know that there are different views on it but I think it’s a conversation that we need to have.

I think that we need to focus, in a very strategic way, on women in sport because I believe that we have potential and the talent in terms of women in sport. I think it is a travesty that, to date, we haven’t had a female Olympic medallist.

That is something that I would like to focus on even more.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Janeil Bellille competes in the Women’s 400m Hurdles Semifinal during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on 16 August 2016. (Copyright AFP 2017/Johannes Eisele)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Janeil Bellille competes in the Women’s 400m Hurdles Semifinal during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on 16 August 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Johannes Eisele)

Wired868How would you get more women in sport? 

Lewis: I think that we need to create the environment that encourages women in sport in general. Sport is not created in a vacuum in the context of some of the societal issues and cultures and acculturalisation. And I think that we need to do more to encourage women in sport and to not only get them involved but to keep them involved in sport in a very serious way.

Wired868You say it doesn’t operate in a vacuum but this is a country that had a female prime minister and has female soca stars. How is a shortage of female success in sport comparable to what exists elsewhere in our society? 

Lewis: There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make to get to the elite level in sport and there are a lot of contradictory aspects in terms of our lifestyle and how we see women in our society and culture that work as a constraint. I’m saying that there are barriers—cultural barriers, mind-set barriers—we may have to break down and continue breaking down to encourage greater participation and to encourage women to stay in sports and to make the necessary sacrifices to make at the level.

I tip my hat to the women that have done it so far and have been pioneers in sport. People like Cleopatra Borel who are making those sacrifices. When, at 37, you have to now sit down and think about how you go forward with the rest of your life as a woman, it’s a challenge. You can say, well, a male will still have a better chance.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago shot put champion Cleopatra Borel throws at the 2016 NAAA National Championships. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CAI Images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago shot put champion Cleopatra Borel throws at the 2016 NAAA National Championships.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CAI Images/Wired868)

I mean, I know women who have sacrificed ten to 12 or 14 years representing their country and now they have to start their post-sporting life and it’s not easy. But that’s something that the Olympic Committee has started doing.

Catherine Forde, when I first came into the Olympic movement, was big on that. I remember at the time when people such as Cleopatra Borel, Candice Scott and Marsha Mark got involved, she was very supportive and very encouraging of the TTOC. I’d say that we need to continue there…

Wired868In what ways did Catherine Forde support?

Lewis: Well, she was on the TTOC Executive and she used to be an advocate for focusing greater support on resources and financial support, etcetera to females and women in sport. I also would like to see us identify the sports that can be podium-ready or likely to be podium-ready; that’s an approach New Zealand and a lot of other countries adopt in terms of Olympic sports and elite sport…

I know that’s going to elicit some significant debate because it will require, if we’re going to agree on that, some difficult decisions. There are some sports that may not be podium-ready and that may not be podium-ready for the foreseeable future but there’s always going to be a philosophical and an ideological debate about that.

If you use the UK example, what they do is that you have Sport England and UK Sport. Sport England is only dealing with development, youth sport, recreational sport, participation. So you have different key performance indicators.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago boxer Nigel Paul (right) looks for the light switch during his super heavyweight clash with Nigeria's Efe Ajagba in Rio 2016 Olympic competition on 13 August 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago boxer Nigel Paul (right) looks for the light switch during his super heavyweight clash with Nigeria’s Efe Ajagba in Rio 2016 Olympic competition on 13 August 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

When you’re dealing with the elite level like UK Sport, the key performance indicator is results and performance. If you don’t hit those targets, you get downgraded. To me, you need that kind of thing because we’re entering into a greater environment where it’s about the allocation of scarce resources. And this is what I’m saying.

I really appreciate the intense passion and discussions that are taking place in many ways. I think what has happened too is that new fans are being created, people are now taking a greater interest in the Olympics. So now an important discussion needs to be had in terms of: Are we serious about the Olympics? Are we serious about winning Olympic medals? That is a necessary conversation.

So, okay, what does getting there look like? Do we want to now allocate more to the one percent? Because at the end of the day, in terms of the elite level, it’s only going to be the one to two percent in terms of your total participants like the top of the pyramid [who can deliver]. And therefore it’s the same thing [you have to consider] in terms of funding.

Wired868Okay, you mentioned just now the post-sport career of these athletes…

Lewis: That’s one of the Ten-Gold-by-2024 Athlete Welfare Fund Concept document—in terms of also looking at post-career training. Like we have introduced things in a very active way with partners, in terms of not only being an ambassador but offering the opportunity for athletes to in turn receive post-career training. And there’s a program which we’ve had some conversations with Royal Bank—our partner is Scotia Bank by the way—and they’re doing that with Shanntol Ince…

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago paralympic star athlete Shanntol Ince.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago paralympic star athlete Shanntol Ince.

These are things that have never been done before. We never had a marketing department, we never had an Athlete Services Officer. These are actual steps that have been taken and this is over three years. So it’s about working, on a daily basis, to change the culture and to improve and to continue to take things on board.

We have never been as accessible and open to public conversations as we have been now because I’m not afraid of being as transparent as possible. Yes, people will always expect you to be more transparent but it’s a big step in terms of the kind of conversation I am open to having with the public and everything. Because it’s all aimed at an effort to continue to improve.

Wired868What are you most proud of during your time as TTOC president?

Lewis: Actually putting things in place from an athlete-centred perspective, things like the medal bonuses, etcetera. But overall the thing that I really, really take some strength from is the whole conversation that has been catalysed by the Ten-Gold-by-2024. There are conversations taking place now and a focus that there hasn’t been before.

Wired868So you think it’s led to positive discussion?

Lewis: I think that it has led to much needed conversations and discussion. I’ve come in for some strong attacks on the fact that it’s unrealistic, I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m saying. That to me is a positive. Because what I’m saying is that, is that if we look at the money that has been invested in sport, from the world class venues, to the over 700 community fields. If we did an aggregate on what would have seen spent by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, and the Sport Company, and you add up everything—whether it’s $50 million or $40 million over the last five, six, seven and ten years, whatever it was—then my question would be: what’s the aspiration for all of that?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters Richard Thompson (left) and Rondell Sorrillo cross the line in the 100 metre final of the NAAA National Open Championships on 25 June 2016 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain. Thompson won gold at the event followed by Sorrillo, Bledman and Callender respectively. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA Images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters Richard Thompson (left) and Rondell Sorrillo cross the line in the 100 metre final of the NAAA National Open Championships on 25 June 2016 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Thompson won gold at the event followed by Sorrillo, Bledman and Callender respectively.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA Images/Wired868)

What is the target? What was it for? Have we grown in participation? Do we have more clubs?

Okay, so if Brian Lewis is an idiot and an A-hole and 10-Golds-by-2024 is pie-in-the-sky, then is it two bronze medals by 2024? Is it 12 finalists by 2024? Is it no medals by 2024?

Surely, whether it’s one cent or a million spent, we must have measurables, we must have key performance indicators? How do we assess then whether this investment should continue to be made or should be reallocated somewhere else? Be it in health or whatever? What I’m saying is that there are conversations that we need to have.

Wired868Okay, as you mentioned it in those terms, is it that you see 10/24 as an aspiration—so you reach for the skies and you might make the clouds? Or do you see it as a realistic target? 

Lewis: It is an aspiration, I think it is realistic [and] I also think it’s a metaphor because what are we saying? Are we saying that we are going off to Games still, at this point in our evolution as a country and as a society where we have more sporting facilities than a lot of other countries—even though we complain, there are countries who would love to receive what sport on the whole gets here.

So at the end of the day what is that all about? So what if we could achieve?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's 4x100 metre relay team of (from left) Richard Thompson, Marc Burns, Emmanuel Callender and Keston Bledman pose with their London 2012 Olympic Games silver medals in a ceremony at the Anchorage, Carenage on 29 June 2016. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA Images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s 4×100 metre relay team of (from left) Richard Thompson, Marc Burns, Emmanuel Callender and Keston Bledman pose with their London 2012 Olympic Games silver medals in a ceremony at the Anchorage, Carenage on 29 June 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA Images/Wired868)

People are saying we can’t and everybody is manifesting their negative views on it. What about if we could? We should be asking the question, okay, what will it take to get that? And how much will it cost? And what do we need to do? And then the question would be, after we assess all that, do we want to make this investment? Is that a priority?

And I’m saying if the view is that ‘Nah, we want to focus on healthy lifestyles and growing participation,’ then not a problem.

Wired868But have you considered the cost and the sacrifices it would take for us to get there? In other words, are we on the right track now? What do we need to add to what we’re doing now to get there, realistically?

Lewis: I said that there’s a systematic approach to this. There’s a need for long-term athlete development; there’s need for talent identification in a more structured way; there is need for qualified physical education teachers in every primary and secondary schools; there needs to be a growth in club infrastructure because how are people going to be getting involved in sport? It can’t just be on a school system, right? So that’s the whole eco-system. But the reality is that, even while that is going on—and you know that’s long-term—what are we going to do with the short term, medium term and long term?

In the short term I’m saying that there are people who are already displaying world-class talent and there are people who are on the verge of world class. What we have to do is ensure and make sure that they get focused support. It mustn’t be ‘Well, boy, it depends on if this or it depends on if that.’ You can’t be supporting our athletes in arrears. I’m saying that what we need to do is complement it as we evolve and strengthen it. Everything is a start, right?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Machel Cedenio (second from left) beats (from left) Grenada's Bralon Taplin, Bahrain's Ali Khamis and Botswana's Karabo Sibanda to the finish line in the Rio Olympics' 400 metre final on 14 August 2016. Cedenio finished fourth behind South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk, Grenada's Kirani James and the United States' LaShawn Merritt. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Machel Cedenio (second from left) beats (from left) Grenada’s Bralon Taplin, Bahrain’s Ali Khamis and Botswana’s Karabo Sibanda to the finish line in the Rio Olympics’ 400 metre final on 14 August 2016.
Cedenio finished fourth behind South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk, Grenada’s Kirani James and the United States’ LaShawn Merritt.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

What I would want to see happen is this: we decide, okay, in terms of podium-ready or podium-level athletes, this is the group. We will support them in the first instance to Tokyo 2020. But there’s an annual review; there are performance-based targets that you must hit and, depending on that, we’ll decide whether we continue funding at the level. But it must be clear, so that as an athlete you could just say upfront, ‘Okay, I want to go; this is what I’m going to get but these are—for want of a better word—the key performance indicators I have to make…

Wired868Alright and last question. What do you see as your biggest challenge as TTOC president?

Lewis: I would think it’s the mind-set. When you’re talking Olympics, you’re talking striving for excellence and, the way I learned it, you always have to set big goals, goals that make you really push yourself to your full potential… I have to deal with a mind-set that says only that ten golds by 2024 is unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky, but you’re not giving me an alternative. So if it’s not 10 golds by 2024, tell me what it is. But we must have a goal!

Don’t come across as if we want to hide behind a comfort zone and mediocrity because we fraid to fail. I going to repeat it again: I’m an idiot, I’m an ‘A’-hole, I don’t know what I’m saying, I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no problem accepting that. But tell me what should be the target. And I’m saying that’s the biggest challenge. Because people have looked me in the eye and they can’t give me an answer. So what does that tell me?

Wired868What does it tell you?

Lewis: That we’re faking it all the time, in other words. No wonder that the athletes who feel that they have world class in them can’t get the support they need. Because if you’re in a system where people really don’t believe they could be world class, then…

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted gold medalist Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted gold medalist Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part One where TTOC president Brian Lewis talks about athlete funding, CANOC, television rights and 10 gold medals for 2024.

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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34 comments

  1. That he would accept no responsibility and expect little from Dr. Hypolite shows the rank disregard they have for T&T’s money. Also this also speaks to the reasons why the elite athletes get a raw deal.

  2. Lasana Liburd, must compliment you for having sat through snow job that Brian Lewis gave you. Either Brian Lewis feels we are daft or he is really daft.

  3. well i stopped reading after the first two questions regarding Hypolite’s role. If tt payed for Hypolite to go to the games then his responsibility is to TT. That we had deputy is irrelevant. If are able to rely on only one then we should have paid for only one. ESPN should have paid for hypolite if they wanted him so badly.

  4. Hear nah… My position remains the same. The President of the TTOC needs to be replaced. He is all talk. Conflict of interest is blatant… a 10 year old can reason that it is a conflict of interest. His decision making is flawed… severely compromised by his ‘friends in high places’. When two pull was the Minister of Sport, he (the President of TTOC) turned a blind eye to the many instances of conflict of interest including the LifeSport debacle. His position on the Chef de Mission’s incompetent leadership during the 2016 Rio Olympics is grounds for dismissal. He is all talk and offers no action that brings forth positive results. He talks loud and says nothing. Give me a break!

  5. While this interview does come across as avoiding giving some specific info, in fairness to him, I had read some of his articles in the Guardian, and I thought he had good ideas. I guess with anything else in TnT, the is also a lot of politics at play.
    On another note, why do we have so many separate bodies for sport? Isn’t that duplication/overlap of functions?
    And consider, we were giving $2m as prize money for so a monarch-which essentially benefits the artiste, while look at the incentive our athletes were getting.

    • The allocation of state resources continues to baffle me. Moreso how those resources are spent. We have national and elite athletes scrunting for assistance. Corporate endorsements a few and far between…but these same companies have no problem forking out a ridiculous sum of money to sponsor artistes/fetes etc…I don’t get it.

    • I guess there is a better ROI because face it, trinis are more loyal to a fete than to our athletes.

      At the same time, we were discussing on another post about having the NSOs etc running the bodies like a proper business-including publicity, fund raising, etc and that might have furthered the funding efforts. I do see some of our young athletes making public profiles to highlight their work/achievements, which is a step in the right direction. And the TTOC has a fb page which builds profile of athletes etc, but I am sure many may not even be aware until closer to next Olympics.
      I wonder if it has more to do with management style, and if success in one field could lead to success in another. Calling Mrs. Montano! Lol.

    • I honestly think it’s just our culture..as you said we are more loyal to a fete than our athletes. Just the other day I saw Michelle Lee Ahye asking the very question about the lack of sponsorship for athletes. I’ve always said our culture continues to be our best and worst friend..depending on who you are and how you look at things. I for one believe our athletes deserve better. I think the TTOC has been trying tho…but it takes all hands on deck. As it relates to corporate TnT they think about their bottom line and that’s it..I guess that’s business and we cannot blame them…however when you really want to build a community..a country…you support with the right intentions.

    • But companies get tax breaks from such sponsorship. Like everything else, though, I believe it is about building relationships. So an athlete engaged in motor sports can’t get sponsorship from tyre, oil, co’s etc? The question is, who does the marketing, and this e.g. makes a case for streamlined process. I would highlight our athletes in non-traditional sports, as that makes us stand out. Why can’t we honour our world class athletes/heroes by doing decals (removable portraits) on our national carrier so they are literally world class and flying our flag; temporary so we can rotate/highlight as needed. Where are the ppl who think? Sorry for cynicism, but they don’t have a party card?

    • Great suggestions! But unfortunately we don’t seem to have companies with such forward thinking. For eg TSTT (I do work for them so prob shouldn’t say this! Lol) only renewed Keshorn’s contract this year. The other athletes previously signed may not have had such a good showing at the Olympics and so it was a cut of the throat for them. They aren’t in it for the long run..it’s about winners. Everybody loves to support a winner! I love your ideas though and it’ll be great if they are implemented.

    • Exactly @your point-we need investors in our youth, our athletes, not just lip service. And our $ should be spent by companies who invest in our ppl-who practice CSR, and who give back to our communities (hmm, then we may have few companies, due to no profits! Lol)

    • Well to be fair Cherisse TSTT was one of the first companies to back the Soca Warriors world cup campaign before many people jumped on the bandwagon. And that was before they started winning. I think it’s more because we in a recession they have to pick and choose where they spend the money now.

    • Recession has a part to play however the company later signed two other individuals ( Voice being one) … we can agree on why. He’s a winner.

  6. Evasive ….hiding behind generalisations and avoiding facts …there was a conflict of interest……

  7. I couldn’t make it through all of this. Just…..Like…..wut?!

  8. Well this was as comprehensive as part 1 in terms of the wide ranging questions. But it was just as evasive as Joan put it. Some people have mastered the art of using a lot of words but not really saying anything useful. But that’s politics for you. There was nothing really definitive that you can look at and say..”oh I get it..so that’s how this process works..or that’s how you should approach things if you want to achieve this or that”. I would have liked to see some discussion about drug testing and what levels if any do they test in Trinidad. For instance do they test under 20 athletes and is it done only for those representing the country.

  9. Lasana. I am extremely disappointed that you didn’t ask the most important question: “Do you, Mr. Lewis, feel, as most of us do, that Dick jumbie we?”.

  10. “Key performance indicators ” as he spoke about is the reality that Jamaica has Under 15 runners doing 1:51:06 in the 800M and our Under 20 athletes are doing 1:56:00 for the same distance.

  11. I will have to reread this interview later tonight in the relaxed peaceful comfort of my home office. Sigh…

  12. Excellent interview. Thought that I should wait for part 2 before saying this. Keep up the good work.

  13. It was an interesting read but very evasive.

    • Scotty Ranking

      I fear that people are looking for longevity at the expense of true productivity. Being vague and evasive means that you don’t ever commit to anything and allows for varied interpretations and wiggle room when – not if, but when! – things don’t work out …

  14. Thank you very much for sharing this entire interview with us.