Sport Minister Anil Roberts called off his crusade against the National Amateur Athletics Association (NAAA) yesterday in typical fashion; with insults and threats, selective facts and full volume.
It was a less than classy retreat after the IAAF made it clear that it neither needed nor wished to have the Trinidad and Tobago MP’s assistance in dealing with a matter under its remit.
Roberts had demanded that the NAAA hand over all relevant documentation regarding its selection of Semoy Hackett for the recently concluded 2013 IAAF World Championship in Moscow, Russia. He made it clear that this information would be aired publicly.
“While the NAAA is autonomous, this minister and this ministry, the permanent secretary, have (a) responsibility to the people of T&T where their taxpayers’ dollars go,” Roberts told the Trinidad Express, “and taxpayers’ dollars are not to go to cheaters.”
Yet, Roberts’ stance on accountability is not particularly consistent. The Sport Ministry, according to the Auditor General’s report, is yet to account for approximately $45 million in taxpayers’ money.
Former Sport Minister Gary Hunt is among those who bemoan Roberts’ perceived lack of transparency in his duties. Hunt pointed to the operations of the Elite Athletes Assistance Programme (EAAP), which was introduced during his tenure to help fund the preparation of Trinidad and Tobago’s most gifted athletes.
Under Hunt, athletes were presented with their cheques in front of the media and the recipients’ names were published on the ministry’s website.
But, now, the EAAP beneficiaries and the amount they receive is unknown to even the national sporting bodies. The change in policy is even more worrying since Roberts coaches an EAAP recepient, George Bovell III, while his Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed is a senior figure at track club, Rebirth, which is believed to have athletes on the list.
“Clearly (Roberts and Creed) have a hidden agenda,” Hunt told Wired868. “They are distorting well intentioned programs for self-serving purposes. One can only think that.”
Roberts claimed he refused to attend the June 2013 NAAA National Championship as his way of: “conducting a silent protest that I did not support drug cheats at the competition.”
But a NAAA source pointed out that the Sport Ministry did not fund the 2012 NAAA National Championship either while, in recent years, the ministry has held its own meet, the Relay Carnival, claimed to be developing athletes itself through Life Sport and Taking Sport to Rural Areas and helped bankroll other track events like the Hampton Games and Twilight Meet.
There might have been little love lost between the two bodies long before Hackett’s misadventure and some within the NAAA have long wondered whether the Sport Ministry was more of rival than a partner.
A release from the NAAA today questioned Roberts’ impartiality when he met the executive on Monday to discuss the Hackett scandal.
“It was evident to the members of the NAAA team that, rather than seeking to understand the circumstances surrounding the matter,” stated the NAAA release, “the Minister appeared to be in search of information that would justify what now looks like preconceived notions that he already had.”
But was the Sport Minister wrong to hold the NAAA accountable? And is the NAAA really an innocent party in this fiasco?
Here is a timeline of the Hackett scandal:
In June 2012, the then 23-year-old Scarborough-born sprinter was tested at a NCAA meet in the United States while representing the Louisiana State University (LSU) and returned a positive result for methylhexanamine in her A sample.
Methylhexanamine is a short-term stimulant that, according to University of Toronto kinesiology professor Greg Wells, is only slightly stronger than a cup of coffee. Nonetheless, it is a banned substance in several sports and Hackett served a six month suspension in 2011 after testing positive for the same drug.
In July 2012, Hackett requested and witnessed the testing of her B sample and, the following month, she headed to the London 2012 Olympic Games with the Trinidad and Tobago team.
The NAAA claimed that neither the NCAA nor LSU informed the local body or the IAAF about the failed drug test.
Hackett was tested during the Olympics and found to be clean. However, in November, Hackett’s B sample was declared positive and the NCAA penalised LSU as a result.
Again, the NAAA claimed to have received no correspondence on the matter from any of the involved parties. The NSO claimed to have written LSU for clarification. After further probes—which now included the IAAF—and an explanation from Hackett, the international body imposed a provisional suspension on the athlete in February 2013.
In April 2013, Hackett contacted the NAAA again, through attorney Michael S Straubel, and requested a meeting with its disciplinary panel to raise supposed fundamental flaws with the NCAA’s process.
After a few meetings, the disciplinary panel recommended that Hackett’s suspension be lifted based on supposed precedence within CAS case law.
Roberts questioned whether the NAA had sought legal advice before its decision. But attorney J. Tyrone Marcus sat on the NAAA’s disciplinary panel and he is well known to the minister since he worked at the Ministry of Sport under Hunt and Roberts.
Emboldened, Straubel petitioned the NAAA and IAAF to allow the sprinter to race at the National Championship in Port of Spain, which was a qualifier for the World Championship in Moscow.
The local body turned to the IAAF for guidance and was warned that the lifting of Hackett’s ban was due to be reviewed by the IAAF Doping Review Board soon. If the Doping Review Board forwarded the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Hackett’s provisional suspension would be immediately re-imposed.
The IAAF told the NAAA that Hackett was eligible to compete up until her case was sent before CAS. But the international body suggested that she be advised not to compete until the conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings.
But suppose the Doping Review Board did not refer Hackett to CAS? Would she have then needlessly missed the World Championship?
Hackett wanted to run and the NAAA decided it had no legal grounds to stop her. Both parties agreed that she would run in the individual competition but not the relays and she subsequently competed at the National Championships and the July 2013 CAC Games in Mexico before heading to Europe.
Hackett landed in Moscow as an IAAF accredited athlete. But on 6 August 2013, four days before the start of the World Championship, the IAAF ruled that it would send her case to CAS.
The IAAF offered Hackett an extradited hearing on August 9 but that was declined as it was deemed to be insufficient time to prepare. And Hackett, along with fellow national sprinter Kelly-Ann Baptiste who also failed a drug test, left Moscow in shame.
Within 24 hours, Roberts blasted the pair as “cheats” before turning the brunt of his rage towards the NAAA for allowing Hackett to travel to Moscow at all.
CAS will eventually decide whether Hackett is due a second ban or if she was the victim of a botched drug test by the NCAA.
You must decide yourself whether the NAAA failed to protect Trinidad and Tobago’s image though. Or if, due to legal constraints, it was left with little choice.
And whether the Sport Minister’s brash response to an ongoing case was an understandable reaction to blatant mismanagement; or a sign than he lacks the decorum expected of his portfolio.