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Thema’s case is a matter of national importance! Judge sends TTGF to High Court

Thema Williams’ first legal bout with the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) and its current and past officials David Marquez, Akil Wattley, Ricardo Lue Shue and his wife Donna Lue Shue ended with a resounding victory this morning, as Justice Frank Seepersad decided that the 21-year-old gymnast had a right to be heard in the local High Court.

Seepersad also ruled that the four sport administrators must pay costs—certified fit for Senior Counsel—to Williams’ legal team for their unsuccessful attempt to block the gymnast.

Photo: Thema Williams of Trinidad and Tobago competes on the uneven bars during the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow, Scotland, on 23 October 2015. (Copyright AFP 2016/Andy Buchanan)
Photo: Thema Williams of Trinidad and Tobago competes on the uneven bars during the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow, Scotland, on 23 October 2015.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Andy Buchanan)

“There is, therefore, a very evident public interest and concern in this matter,” stated Seepersad, in his judgment, “and the selection process for representation at the Olympics is an issue that extends beyond the insular concerns of the parties to this matter and is one in which every citizen has a vested interest.”

Williams is represented by advocate attorney Keith Scotland, instructing attorney Reza Ramjohn and Martin Daly SC. Attorney Justin Junkere represented the TTGF while Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues were defended by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC and Ronnie Bissessar.

The gymnastics body and officials sought to stay Williams’ TT$11.3 million court case against them and instead have the matter sent to their own arbitration body. The gymnast was suing the TTGF and the four officials for controversially removing her from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in favour of Canada-born gymnast Marisa Dick.

Williams, said a source close to her legal team, was figuratively dragged away from Rio like Dr David Dao—the American passenger of Asian descent who was controversially and violently removed from a United Airlines flight earlier this month.

The quip, according to the source, was intentionally meant to mirror a recent comment by Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis, who compared the two controversies in a recent interview with Wired868.

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)

“Team Thema” have still not forgiven Lewis and the TTOC for allowing the local gymnastics body to give Williams’ spot in Rio to Dick.

In court today, Seepersad ruled comprehensively in favour of the young gymnast.

The gymnastics body argued that their agreement with Williams and Dick included an arbitration clause, which ought to be adhered to. It reads:

“All disputes arising out of or connected with this agreement are subject to resolution exclusively through the procedures set forth in the TTGF by-laws and/or, if appropriate, through the grievance procedures of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee.”

Junkere asked Seepersad to instruct Williams to adhere to the provisions of this clause, even though the TTGF itself ignored the gymnast’s request for arbitration when she was de-accredited—just hours before the Rio Test Event on 17 April 2016.

However, Seepersad was not comfortable with the wording of the TTGF’s dispute resolution provision and concerned as to whether it could provide Williams with a fair hearing.

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)

“Having read the said Bye-laws, the Court formed the view that they do not adequately outline the processes or procedures to be adopted in relation to grievance procedures,” stated Seepersad. “[…] The Court also reviewed the Athlete Agreement and it does not outline any definitive and clear processes for the resolution of grievances as those outlined by the Claimant in her Statement of Case.”

As such, Seepersad declared that the TTGF’s arbitration clause was unenforceable and went further to describe the gymnastic body’s constitution as “very limited in its scope.”

Further, Seepersad noted that the accusation of collusion and conspiring to deny Williams her place at the Rio Olympics could not be adequately addressed via dispute resolution.

“Given the nature of [Williams’] complaints, the Court has deep rooted concerns as to whether any dispute resolution process as outlined by [the TTGF] would be fair, independent and impartial… When one considers the formation of the disciplinary committee as established under the [TTGF’s] constitution, legitimate concerns as to the impartiality and independence of the said committee to resolve the particular and unique complaints, as advanced by [Williams], can arise.”

And, just as important, Seepersad said that Williams case was a “matter of national importance […] that extends beyond the insular concerns of the parties to this matter and is one in which every citizen has a vested interest.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams (centre) is serenaded by 2016 International Soca Monarch Aaron “Voice” St Louis at the Piarco International Airport on her return from Rio on Wednesday 20 April 2016. Looking on are Williams' parents, Leon Williams (right) and Helen Adams (second from left). (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams (centre) is serenaded by 2016 International Soca Monarch Aaron “Voice” St Louis at the Piarco International Airport on her return from Rio on Wednesday 20 April 2016.
Looking on are Williams’ parents, Leon Williams (right) and Helen Adams (second from left).
(Courtesy Wired868)

“Given the unprecedented levels of crime and general sense of unease that confronts this nation, sports and the participation by athletes in international events install a much needed sense of national pride and is one of the few avenues by which the flames are fanned.

“Due to the pursuit of insular concerns, a prevailing sense of selfishness and complacency is very evident in this society and, as a consequence, mediocrity is often rewarded.

“This society is too blessed and has extensive unrealised talent for such a state of affairs to continue. There is a need to disregard bias, ethnic, and/or political agendas and there should be a resolve to ensure that only those who are most deserving are entrusted with the responsibility to make decisions and to represent us in all areas of national life.”

The case was adjourned to 15 May 2017 when there will be a case management conference for all parties.

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)

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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78 comments

  1. Since Frankie was a young lawyer saving many innocent ppl from the snares of corruption, he impressed me!!!!!Long live JUSTICE!!!!

  2. “Having read the said Bye-laws, the Court formed the view that they do not adequately outline the processes or procedures to be adopted in relation to grievance procedures,” stated Seepersad. “[…] The Court also reviewed the Athlete Agreement and it does not outline any definitive and clear processes for the resolution of grievances as those outlined by the Claimant in her Statement of Case.”
    In other words their provisions are weak and lame and no doubt would favour themselves and not the athlete in question – shame on them – and there should be a better way to ensure athletes get fair treatment – and the people who advocate for them should not wait til something like this happens to realise the system is rigged and protest.

  3. Read this and teared up. I’m so happy that the first course of justice has been served.

  4. The high court seems to be very strong in its stand for abstinence. No dick what so ever. Not a piece not a half. None.Period.

    I approve.

  5. Round 1 to team Thema – we are in for the long haul…. been with her since she is 6 years old ! We good to go…..

  6. Good for her dignity and pride she has feelings too

  7. Congrats to Justice Frank Rampersad in his ruling to take this issue to the local high court, For too long sportsmen and women have been treated despicably by administrators (wish some one could tackle WICB in the same manner) Some comments of interest was this issue is a national issue and of public concern. More than that Justice Rampersad spoke to the importance of sport as a deterrent from crime and an impetus for sportsmen/women to performa at the international level, which then creates national pride. He said now was the time to disregard bias, ethnic and political agendas, so as to ensure only those who are deserving are entrusted with the responsibility to make decisions and to represent us in all areas of life . will be following this story. Change has to start sometime , why not now. Too much favouritism and nepotism in all these sportsing bodies/administrations and lack of transparency and accountability in their nefarious actions. Way to go Sir

  8. I want Thema to win house,land (without property tax) and millions of dollars.

  9. Wow.. nice .. a little justice is better than none.im still not satisfied

  10. Lasana. How come the so called brave one didnt have the TTGF on his list for boo boo of the year? I hope he reads the ruling today and put himself on the list for 2017. Lol

  11. Fair ruling by the Justice, very well reasoned. I wasn’t really convinced until reading his critique of the TTGF’s Arbitration Procedures, and specifically, the ways in which he thought they were either unfair or deficient.

    • I think it could be a landmark ruling for athletes.

    • I’m sorry but..u weren’t ‘really convinced’..? May I ask why?

    • I personally detest mandatory arbitration clauses. In a vast majority of circumstances the arbitrator is paid for by one of the parties, usually the one mandating arbitration. Not too difficult to spot the issues there. Even before getting to the hearing however, is just the nature of the agreement to begin with, an athlete in Thema’s position isn’t on equal footing with the governing body when negotiating these contracts. Put simply, they often have no choice but to sign, even in the few cases where they have counsel. The real value in this ruling is the implicit requirement that these governing bodies put real thought and effort into making sure that the arbitration procedures are fair.

      Cherisse I wasn’t ‘convinced’ that this issue really rose to the level of “national importance.” The citizenry has passing interest in the issue (and certainly emotional investment), but I’m not sure that the average Joe Public has a “vested” interest as the judge stated. Most of these bodies are non-profits, and as such there are legitimate reasons why they would prefer to funnel all disputes the way of arbitration, rather than risk the time and costs associated with trial.

      Despite my misgivings about mandatory arbitration, I’m not that blinded as to not see the merit in having them, from the other side’s perspective. As such, for me there has to be a compelling interest for the courts to become involved. I think the good Justice Seepersad (I erroneously referred to him as “judge” earlier) makes a good case that the issue of fundamental fairness in the procedure makes this such a “compelling interest.”

    • Thanks much for explaining Nigel ..can’t agree on the point of the issue not having national importance though. In fact it stands out in my mind as being a case where our citizens actually stood up and spoke out. (Very rare). Also I think it will be a wake up call for other sporting bodies to get their acts together..far too often our athletes suffer tremendously by the very ppl elected to serve and look out for their best interests.

    • I agree with Cherisse. Whether the majority of the public recognizes their personal interest in the case or not, the entire matter has national implications. There’s a reason so many were so offended by this matter and it was that offense that brought it to this point in the first place.

    • Like I said, there is emotional interest to be sure, but a “vested” interest suggests having not only contributed to the issue in the build up, but having a personal stake in the outcome as well. At any rate it’s more of a technical argument than anything.

    • The personal stake in the outcome is what I’m referring to. The stakes aren’t just limited to gymnastics or sports in general. If they were, the vast majority of the people who banded together to bring it to the nation’s attention wouldn’t necessarily have gotten involved.

    • Nobody had a personal stake other than Thema and Marissa. Which is why I was skeptical of the Justice’s phrasing (granted that was not his precise statement).

    • I think you’re being unnecessarily narrow in your definition of the concept, which makes your point moot. If a DIRECT personal stake was required for an issue to be of national importance, then, by definition, no issue could be.

    • I don’t think you understand the meaning of a ‘moot’ point. Either that or you’re not really making a convincing case that any point I’ve made is moot. At any rate, I freely conceded that mine was “more of a technical argument,” I left it alone and was prepared to move on.

      I’m sorry if you think I’m being “unnecessarily narrow” but in what I do for a living, words matter. Words of High Court Justices, even more so. Their words don’t have the same liberty of construction and interpretation as the words of laypersons, or words used in non-legal contexts. This ruling will form the basis of precedents later to be relied upon by future litigants.

      Added to which, this is an issue of first impression for the Court, ramping up the stakes even higher in order for the decision to withstand appellate scrutiny. The reasoning and phrasing need to be both sound and meticulous. My concerns in one area were more than alleviated by the rationale in the latter.

    • Easy there, Nigel. It’s just a conversation. A difference of opinion does not constitute an attack and that is what this is: a minor difference of opinion over what is, according to you, a technical matter.

    • Didn’t take anything as an attack, just wasn’t sure where the “moot” talk came in (y)

    • Your argument appeared to be that the issue doesn’t rise to national importance because the average Joe doesn’t have a vested interest. You then defined a vested interest as a personal stake, which, if true, would mean that no such issue could rise to the level of national importance as it would never be able to pass your test of personal stakes for everyone.

      And moot is defined as (among other things): having little or no practical relevance.

      As you yourself declared this a technical matter and your stance appears to be illogical, it does indeed fall under that definition.

      (Language is crucial to my profession as well.)

    • Calisa Paulson perfect. Just…perfect. Lol

    • “Your argument appeared to be that the issue doesn’t rise to national importance because the average Joe doesn’t have a vested interest.”

      You’re actually conflating two separate points that were made. When asked by Cherisse why I wasn’t initially convinced by the ruling, I said that I didn’t think that the Williams-Dick imbroglio rose to the level of national importance. I separately said that I disagreed with Justice Seepersad’s statement that the public has a vested interest in the issue. Perhaps he was being loose with his words or speaking figuratively, but that simply isn’t the case.

      A ‘vested interest’ is a personal stake, there’s no “if true” about that, that’s not my subjective definition of the term, that is the definition. No one but the two athletes, perhaps their immediate families, and the TTGF officials involved really have a ‘vested’ or personal stake in the issue. For many it may seem personal because of the level of interest taken in the matter, but honestly it does not affect your lives individually, one way or the other.

      My comments on the ‘vested interest’ aspect of the ruling were separate from my thoughts on whether the issue was of “national importance,” which I never actually got into. I think the RULING certainly is of national importance, as if upheld, it stands upend the way that many sporting bodies interact with their athletes. But again, that’s a separate discussion from whether the public has ‘vested interest.’

      I get that to you the point may seem “moot” or irrelevant, but it’s actually far from. Any lawyer seeking to rely on the ruling for precedential effect, in order to get their case before the high court would now have to prove to the court that the public similarly has a vested interest in their case. That is very relevant to any litigator because it raises the bar incredibly high in getting your case into the High Court. But this particular aspect of the discussion is what I referred to as “technical,” most here aren’t litigators so most likely would not be interested in that aspect of the conversation, which is why I initially decided to not get into it.

    • “Cherisse I wasn’t ‘convinced’ that this issue really rose to the level of “national importance.” The citizenry has passing interest in the issue (and certainly emotional investment), but I’m not sure that the average Joe Public has a “vested” interest as the judge stated.”

      ?? One point made in two consecutive sentences in one paragraph.

    • I’m posting in a FB discussion group, not writing an academic paper. As explained (at length) above, there were two separate points being made. If you rather insist that it was all one point then fine, let’s go with that. This literal parsing of sentences is a bit ridiculous.

    • LOL, no one is arguing semantics here besides you; I’m literally reading the words you wrote. As you said, words are important in your profession. If you were unclear in your explanation or stated something incorrectly, that’s fine, but basic Communications theory will tell you that the onus falls to the sender to ensure that their message is phrased properly so as to convey the intended meaning.

      Basic common sense will tell you that the grownup thing to do is to admit you misspoke (or, in this case, mistyped), instead of pretending to have said something different and then getting defensive when someone points out that that claim is, on its face, untrue.

    • Words are indeed important, and my words have not changed. I said that you interpreted two things stated separately as one. That’s not me changing my words, how did I misspeak? Admittedly I was unclear, in hindsight the two points would have been better served by separate sentences, which is why I sought to later clarify the two distinct points. Of course I had no way of knowing that what was intended as a quick explanation to Cherisse (tacked onto a separate response to Lasana) would be subjected to this level of scrutiny and the cause for ad hominems. But here we are.

    • You stated two things as one and then later attempted to separate them. Notice I wrote that you were either unclear -or- you misspoke. The or indicates that one of those things were true. You have now confirmed as much. The grownup thing to do in such a circumstance is to own your error instead of getting defensive and pretending that this was the way you originally made your point. The intention may have been there, but the message was flawed and that’s fine. To err is human after all.

      Where exactly are those ad hominems, though? It’s clear you felt attacked (it’s been clear way back when you felt moved to place the words “moot” and “unnecessarily narrow” in quotes), but I’m not sure why a critique of your argument would translate to an ad hominem attack. Or maybe you’re referring to my quite recent assertions about common sense and adult behavior. If so, refer to “ridiculous” and the general defensive tone of every single response since I dared disagree with you on a public thread.

    • The matter is of national importance because it deals with Olympic selections; and there are few things that unite us locally, or internationally, than sport.

    • It is about Olympics, it is about abuse of power, it is about race (the words of a TTGF executive member!) and about favoritism at a public institution.
      Really if anyone doesn’t think that is in the national interest, then they haven’t been paying attention. That’s my opinion anyway.

    • That certainly was the rationale taken by the court, Emir Crowne. I don’t fully buy it, but neither would I argue against it. I also agree that precedential impact of the ruling would be of national importance.

      Lasana, neither the TTGF nor the TTOC are public institutions.

    • Neither the TTGF or TTOC are public institutions??? What.

    • Lol. Nigel. I have no interest in trying to prove myself a major in minors today.
      The TTGF and TTOC are open to all Trinidad and Tobago citizens and there is even a responsibility that comes with the “TT” at the start of their names. There is also the point of State funds and the fact that they represent the country at international meets.
      But like I said I don’t want to major in minors. I don’t think that is worth a debate.

    • If you don’t think it a national issue Nigel, then that is your opinion. But my opinion is you’re wearing blinkers.

    • In my view, it’s an issue that would make doves cry…

    • The two bodies are as much public institutions as the TTFA, and I think we both know that’s not the case. The selection for the national footballing teams is as much of national importance as the selection of the Olympic teams. Gymnastics is a niche sport at that. I think what has elevated this to a ‘national’ issue (the import of which still being debatable) is the undercurrent of race and class.

    • As stated much earlier, the true value of this ruling will be the impact it has prospectively on how these sporting bodies deal with the athletes under their remit.

    • Agreed. It’s certainly a sign ‘o’ the times. No longer can people get away in little red corvettes like thieves in the temple! I think the ruling purple rained on their parade for sure.

  12. Very nice… Go lady Justice show them who’s the Boss…

  13. Do you have a copy of the judgement Lasana Liburd.

  14. Slow but steady. Every. Last. Penny. #all
    If the case take 10 years. She will get every cent. I hope TTGF sees what a little “focus” could do.

  15. Beautiful. I imagine there are some other NSOs watching these developments very closely.

  16. Great! Justice and fairness for all our athletes!

  17. She can now sue them for further civil damages now, right? loss of career, opportunity, ? Clean them out.
    Know how common this behavior in Trinidad?