With less than 24 hours before the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) must officially select its athlete for the Rio Olympics Test Event, a gymnastics insider has admitted that the sporting body is divided between its two star athletes, Thema Williams and Marisa Dick.
And, intriguingly, the source claimed that race is a factor and Dick, who was born in Canada but qualifies to represent Trinidad through her mother, Hannifa, is the gymnast who is being victimised and not the other way around.
“The federation is divided because there are people who want to see a black girl from tots and tumblers go to Rio,” the source, who is very close to the TTGF, told Wired868. “They don’t want the best gymnast to go, they want a black girl to go!”
And, in the strongest indication yet that the local body is considering reversing its initial choice for next month’s Olympic Test Event, the source insisted Dick was the better of the two gymnasts and claimed that Williams failed to fulfil her contract.
When reminded that Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis said Williams already earned her spot, the source insisted that the TTOC could not dictate to the TTGF on the matter.
“Brian Lewis cannot say that (Williams) has to go,” said the gymnastics insider. “He cannot tell the federation who can go to the Olympics…
“If you look carefully at that same press release (after the TTGF met the TTOC on the selection issue for the Olympics), it said the federation will be monitoring the athletes for consistency and so on. Thema has not performed consistently since.”
The statement is a complete reversal to the initial position taken by the TTGF, which is that the gymnast with the best result at the 2015 Glasgow World Artistic Gymnastics Championship would automatically qualify for the Rio Test Event.
“The WAG gymnast who scores the highest all-around score at the World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow 2015,” stated the TTGF contract, which was provided to Wired868, “will be the athlete selected by the TTGF Selection Committee to move forward to represent TTO at the Olympic Test Event in Rio, Brazil in April 2016 once her scores allow her selection by FIG to this event.”
Williams finished 59th in Glasgow while Dick was 77th. But the TTGF refused to endorse Williams and the matter went before the TTOC.
“As far as the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee is aware, Thema Williams is the athlete representing Trinidad and Tobago at this qualifier, which is in April,” Lewis told Wired868 on 23 February 2016, “and Marisa Dick is the alternate.”
Wired868 contacted the TTOC president again last night on the issue.
“Based on what transpired at that meeting (in late 2015), the TTOC formed an understanding,” said Lewis, who made calls to verify the authenticity of comments attributed to Wired868’s source, “and our understanding coming out of that meeting, based on what was communicated to the athletes, was that it was Thema Williams (for the Olympic Test Event) with Marisa Dick as the alternate.
“The gymnastics federation is obviously indicating that they received a different legal opinion…”
By afternoon, the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Darryl Smith had assured the gymnastics body that, based on advice from the TTOC, the government had decided not to get involved at this stage.
“NGBs (National Governing Bodies) are independent sporting entities whose autonomy is sacrosanct under the Olympic Charter,” stated the Sport Ministry release, “and general principles of sports law.”
And the TTGF, according to the source, is confident that it can overrule its initial agreement with the athletes due to a second contract called the “Athlete Agreement: Olympic Test Event Rio/Olympic Games 2016” which was signed by both gymnasts in January 2016.
Clause three of the second contract states: “(…) When I accept an invitation to compete in an event as named athlete/alternative for the Olympic Test Event/Olympic Games, I will make every effort to perform to the best of my ability…”
Dick interpreted that clause to mean their pre-Test Event performances would have some bearing on which athlete went on to Rio.
“Only one of us gets to go to the Olympics, so it’s kind of a cutthroat time,” said Dick, in an interview with Edmonton’s CBS News just days after signing the TTGF contract. “But it’s exciting.”
And, with Williams recovering from a knee injury, Dick managed better scores in both FIG events in 2016.
The gymnastics insider agreed with Dick’s assessment and pointed to a report from Williams’ coach, John Geddert, as justification for a possible change in their selected gymnast.
Geddert, who led USA to gold in the artistic gymnastics event at the London 2012 Olympics, was required to provide an update to the TTGF on Williams, who trains at his gym in Michigan.
“The double arabian (manoeuvre) has been consistent and is ready to insert into routines once she recovers from the knee issue,” stated Geddert, in his March report to the TTGF. “(…) Thema’s training attitude has been better than ever before. She remains focused and determined.”
Geddert also referenced the possible impact that the TTGF’s disciplinary proceedings against Williams was having on her preparation.
“Distractions play a major role in interfering with the development and maintenance of confidence,” said Geddert. “The impact of the distractions (of) this month’s drama coupled with the distraction of the Test Event selection procedures fiasco, on top of the prolonged delay in getting any kind of reliable answers from the (TTGF) has certainly worn the patience thin.
“BUT Thema is a fighter…”
Remarkably, the gymnastics insider interpreted Geddert’s report as proof that Williams is supposedly injured, lacking confidence and has a bad attitude.
“I am sure you understand English, so I want you to get a copy of her coach’s March report and tell me what that says to you,” said the source. “What does ‘attitude getting better’ mean to you? Thema has a bad attitude, damaged knee and damaged confidence!”
There was no mention of the topless photos, which caused a stir last month but has since gone cold.
On February 23, someone who identified themselves as “Georgette Heinz” and the mother of a young gymnast, sent a topless photograph of Williams to the TTGF and demanded action against the athlete.
Within 48 hours, the TTGF executive met and decided upon punishment for the Tots and Tumblers gymnast and former St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) student.
The TTGF pointed to a clause under its signed January 2016 contracts with the girls which stated: “I am a representative of TTFG and must conduct myself in a manner that upholds the name, reputation and goodwill of TTGF… As such, my conduct publicly known and not publicly known must not reflect poorly upon or bring discredit to TTGF, its other athletes, its coaches or its events and programs.
“My conduct extends beyond actions on the field of play, including but not limited to
actions/posting/images disseminated in the public domain.”
Before the TTGF could reveal its decision, the body was caught out when a topless photograph of Dick was released by a “Kamara Heinz.” It was subsequently suggested that the second poster may have meant to write: “Karma Heinz.”
On both occasions, the posters had the personal and work email addresses of several TTGF board members, which led to speculation that the photographs were leaked by gymnastics officials who were at odds with each other.
The TTGF executive comprises of: president David Marquez, general secretary Elicia Peters-Charles, first vice president Akil Wattley, second vice president Ricardo Lue Shue, treasurer Susanne Babooram and assistant treasurer Donna Lue Shue, who is the wife of the second vice president.
The TTGF, rather than submit Dick to the same penalty it had decided for Williams, opted to send the matter to its Disciplinary Committee.
It was just as well. Had the TTGF suspended Williams, it would have been illegal under the same Athletes Agreement.
Section 3.2 stated: “No termination or suspension may be imposed, however, except by application of the procedures identified in Article 8 Item 7 of the TTGF Constitution.”
So, in keeping with its constitution, the TTGF called a disciplinary committee meeting to adjudicate.
The Disciplinary Committee consisted of six Council members and an external mediator, who were: Marquez, Peters-Charles, Babooram, Dale Ali, Mary Charles, Dr Angelus Pilgrim and gymnastics outsider David Abdulah.
They met last Wednesday to adjudicate on what Peters-Charles called “a clear breach” of the girls’ code of conduct.
But Peters-Charles was, apparently, wrong.
Abdulah, the MSJ political leader and trade unionist, said that, at the March 9 meeting, the issue was referred to the TTGF’s council instead.
“There was just one meeting (with the TTGF) and the recommendation was made to refer the matter back to the council,” Abdulah told Wired868. “I have not heard anything since, so it is really for the council to say what they were doing.”
According to the TTGF Constitution, seven days notice are required before a Council meeting can be held.
By happenstance, the TTGF already had a Council meeting scheduled for March 11.
However, on the day of the meeting, Council members were told that the meeting was postponed until March 15. The reason for postponement was that a TTGF official supposedly called the relevant members and deduced there would not been insufficient numbers for a quorum.
Today, the second proposed Council meeting was called off for the same reason.
It means that the TTGF membership would not get to formally consider the merits or demerits of the initial case against Williams and Dick or discuss the body’s selection for the upcoming Olympic Test Event.
Arguably, Marquez’s hand was strengthened today as Smith and Lewis said they would not interfere, so as to avoid possible international sanctions against the body.
Tomorrow is the decision day. The gymnastics insider revealed her leanings.
“Dick is the better gymnast,” said the source.
In the end, Williams’ historic performance at the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championship might be in vain.
According to the clause on “Dispute Resolution” in the gymnasts’ Olympic agreement: “All disputes arising out of or connected with this agreement are subject to resolution exclusively through the procedures set forth in the TTGF bylaws and/or, if appropriate, through the grievance procedures of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee.”
The TTGF bylaws does not specifically address any complaint from an athlete who feels he or she was unfairly overlooked for a competition. And, if it were to return to the Disciplinary Committee, the constitution does not give a deadline by which time the committee must decide upon a matter or even meet to discuss it.
Under the TTOC’s constitution, any organisation can submit an unresolved issue for consideration, which must be decided upon within 30 days.
Should the TTGF select Dick tomorrow, Williams’ next competition might be in the TTOC’s judicial room rather than on the balance beam.
(Statement from TTOC president Brian Lewis)
I want to reiterate that we stand by our understanding of what took place at the meeting with the TTGF. And that is that Thema Williams is the selected athlete, on the basis of what was publicised. And that Marisa Dick is the alternate.
We respect that the gymnastics federation has a process that has started and it would be premature for the Olympic Committee to speculate or comment on the outcome of that process. we also respect the right of the TTGF to have sought and received legal advice.