Thema Williams’ attorney, Keith Scotland, and Tots and Tumblers owner, Annette Telfer, have urged the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) to bring closure to its disciplinary action against the Rio-bound gymnast at a midday press conference today in Port of Spain.
On Tuesday March 15, the TTGF officially announced that Williams will represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Rio 2016 Olympic Test Event next month. But, as Scotland revealed, the standoff between the two parties has not yet been settled.
Despite Williams’ selection, the TTGF has not ended its disciplinary matter against the 20 year old gymnast over a photograph posted and quickly removed from her private Instagram account more than a year ago.
“What we want is for this to be brought to a timely end and this isn’t a timely end,” said Scotland. “Why does the athlete need to go to her bed every night thinking there is a disciplinary matter outstanding against me? In any realm, can that be fair?
“The answer has to be ‘no’.”
Both Scotland and Telfer were at pains to stress the distracting nature of the TTGF’s disciplinary matter, which Williams’ coach, John Geddert, also pointed out in several emails to the local body.
“It has been a very tough time for Thema and Thema’s camp,” said Telfer. “And we do hope that closure will be brought to this matter as soon as possible. It is distracting to the athlete and it is unsettling to the athlete.
“We hope this will be a closed chapter very soon.”
There was only the faintest of hints that the TTGF’s disciplinary action might be viewed as more significant a threat to Williams’ Olympic ambitions than just distracting.
Telfer confirmed that the local gymnastics body has until April 10 to alter its submission for the Olympic Test Event.
The TTGF executive is comprised 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.
“If Thema gets injured or something,” said Telfer, “they can change the selection.”
Scotland, who was accompanied by Toronto-based sport attorney Emir Crowne and local attorney Reza Ramjohn, stressed that he did not wish to suggest that the TTGF might be looking for a loophole to deny his client the shot at the Olympics, which she earned “through her blood, sweat and tears.”
However, he insisted that Williams’ legal team will not be caught out or outflanked, even if the TTGF produced a disciplinary committee report on April 9 that sought to ban the gymnast.
“We are on top of that as an eventuality,” said Scotland, “but we are casting no aspersions on anybodies.”
Crowne, who was described as a sport litigation specialist, claimed that the TTGF’s Disciplinary Committee might be acting outside of its jurisdiction if it attempted to block an Olympic athlete.
And he suggested that the Marquez-led gymnastics board had probably mangled the disciplinary case beyond repair anyway.
“The fact that the federation has been quite public with its side of the story without protecting the athlete’s right to innocence and confidentiality is highly prejudicial,” said Crowne. “(…) What has happened has completely compromised any hope of a fair hearing… The matter should be brought to a close…
“(Williams has) the right to an appeal to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) and I don’t think the TTGF wants to be embarrassed internationally in that way.
“I hope they realise that anything that happens thereafter is a serious breach of natural justice that will never be upheld by any independent tribunal.”
Scotland provided all journalists with a timeline of the TTGF’s disciplinary action against Williams.
At 11.20 am on February 23, ‘Georgette Heinz’ emailed a topless photograph of Williams to three members of the TTGF, which was titled: “Rio bound gymnast posts lewd photographs.”
Heinz, in her letter of complaint, claimed that she was a concerned parent of a young gymnast at a Trinidad and Tobago club.
However, Scotland found no proof that the complainant is who she claimed to be.
“As part of our due diligence, your first port of call must be to identify your complainant, because what triggered all of this was an email from this concerned parent,” said Scotland. “We checked with every single (gymnastics) club in Trinidad and Tobago and there was no ‘Georgette Heinz’. We then looked at the white pages. There was no one…
“We checked the electoral list and the EBC database. (And still nothing).
“We checked the email address. And what we do know (is the email address) was assigned to someone in Arizona.
“When we reached Arizona, we stopped there. We didn’t want to go any further lest we ended up in Calgary…”
Yet, the TTGF acted swiftly based on the mysterious complainant. At 6.48 pm on the same February 23, Marquez sent an email to Williams titled “Immediate Response Required” and insisted on an answer to the complaint.
Williams wrote to the TTGF president at 9.15 pm on February 23 and attempted to explain that the photograph was not lewd but meant to be artistic.
“Ms Williams responded by firstly asserting that the photograph was in no way lewd, (which is) a position I hold and believe,” said Scotland. “(Her intent) was never to be lewd but that was part of her expression of art in black history week.
“And she also posted accompanying art that she did with that photograph to show it was part of what she called presentation.”
Unconvinced, the TTGF convened a meeting within 24 hours and, on the afternoon of February 25, Williams was told her matter would be sent to the Disciplinary Committee.
What Scotland omitted was the emergence of a second photograph, on the morning of February 25, which showed her alternate, Marisa Dick, also topless. That photograph was sent by a ‘Kamara Heinz.’
Ever since the Dick photograph emerged, the TTGF has moved at a glacial pace.
Scotland insisted his team found no solace in the fact that Dick, who would take Williams’ place in the event of injury, was also before the Disciplinary Committee for a similar offence.
“We sincerely wish Marisa Dick all the best in her future endeavours,” said Scotland. “It is of no comfort to us that Marisa Dick is before the Disciplinary Committee. Because if the Disciplinary Committee purports to do to Marisa what they did to Thema, that is just plainly wrong.
“We take no comfort in that.”
Telfer revealed too that Geddert’s request for Williams to participate in a Level 10 meet in the United States, which was deemed as crucial for her Olympic preparation, was actually approved by the TTGF’s Women Artistic Gymnastics (WAG) committee.
Oddly, TTGF general secretary Peters-Charles, who claimed to be acting on behalf of Marquez, turned down a recommendation from the local committee specifically designed to rule on such matters when it blanked Williams.
“Yes, the Women Artistic Gymnastics Committee said, by all means, (Williams) did this last year, so it can only do her good,” said Telfer. “But, in their wisdom, the federation denied her the opportunity.”
Telfer claimed she could think of no reason for the TTGF to hold an antagonistic position towards Williams.
“We hope we are all on the same page,” said Telfer, “which is getting Trinidad and Tobago to the hugest event in the whole world.”
The Tots and Tumblers owner said she is confident that Geddert, who led USA to gymnastics gold at the London 2012 Olympics, will find a way to prepare Williams, even without competitive practice.
And she assured the public that Williams is “a tough cookie” who will not crack under the pressure of the disciplinary action and the previous uncertainty regarding her Olympic spot.
Tots and Tumblers is holding a fundraiser and walk for Williams to offset costs for her Olympic preparation and promote general awareness of her accomplishments thus far.
Members of the public are asked to gather at their Port of Spain-based gymnastics club on Saturday March 19 at the corner of Dundonald and Oxford Streets for a walk around the Queen’s Park Savannah, which starts promptly at 8 am.
Telfer insisted that, despite suggestions to the contrary, Williams is “fully fit” and raring to represent Trinidad and Tobago.
“Thema’s fitness status has been questioned,” said Telfer. “We would like to tell everybody that she is fully fit and training very hard and focused. John geddert just sent two videos to the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation as proof of this.
“She is fully focused and we wish her all the best.”
Williams, according to Scotland, is not at loggerheads with the TTGF and is anxious to work with the body, as she prepares for the most challenging part of her Olympic campaign thus far.
However, her legal team pointed out that the gymnastics body had broken its word to the athlete. On February 25, the TTGF said it would rule on the topless photos within a week. But three weeks have passed since then.
Scotland said he will write the TTGF next week and request that the disciplinary proceedings be ended forthwith.
“Our respectable submission, without trampling on the jurisdiction of the organisation,” said Scotland, “we want this matter to be brought to an end and let common sense prevail.
“Look at what caused this furore in the first place. By any stretch of imagination, could you characterise that as lewd? And that is our position.
“Our position is from the get go, that she did nothing wrong. And all we want to do is to have the matter resolved within the time frame that the federation gave in the first place.
“Where is the closure?”