The Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) will be represented at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games by Marisa Dick. Or by nobody.
The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) and the local gymnastics body confirmed to Wired868 today that, based on information from the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG), only one athlete is now allowed to represent the two island republic in Brazil.
And it is not 20 year old Thema Williams, who left her Diego Martin home two years ago and migrated to Michigan, United States where she snubbed a sport scholarship to dedicate her life to getting to Rio.
On Saturday morning, on the eve of the Rio Test event on April 17, TTGF president David Marquez informed the FIG that Williams’ name was to replaced with Dick’s on the grounds of injury.
Marquez’s decision, which supposedly was a unanimous one by the gymnastics board, was taken without consultation with Williams, head of delegation and physiotherapist Nicole Fuentes, coach John Geddert or a medical certificate.
It could yet go down as one of the most controversial moments in Trinidad and Tobago’s sporting history and certainly in gymnastics.
The TTGF comprises of president Marquez, general secretary Elicia Peters-Charles, first vice president Akil Wattley, second vice president Ricardo Lue Shue—who was president of the body from 2008 to 2015 and served as Dick’s coach in Rio—treasurer Susanne Babooram and Lue Shue’s wife, Donna Lue Shue, who serves as assistant treasurer.
A tweet by TTOC president Brian Lewis, shortly after Dick wrapped up the straightforward qualification process, suggested that there might be a glimmer of hope for Williams.
“As long as people understand its @TTOlympic that has the final say in respect of #TeamTTO selection for the Olympic Games,” tweeted Lewis. “Plain talk.”
The relationship between the TTOC and the TTGF has been strained for months.
When the local gymnastics body sent Williams to its disciplinary committee for a topless photo, on 23 February, and suggested she might pay the ultimate price for the supposed indiscretion, Lewis publicly pointed out that Williams—and not Dick—was the chosen athlete for the Rio Test event.
The TTGF’s response was bullish.
“Brian Lewis cannot say that (Williams) has to go,” said a TTGF member then, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He cannot tell the Federation who can go to the Olympics.”
This morning, Lewis pointed to Clause 27.3 of the Olympic charter, which suggested otherwise:
“The NOCs have the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games and at the regional, continental or world multi-sports competitions patronised by the IOC…”
The TTOC president explained that it would not be unprecedented for the local body to overrule a National Sporting Organisation (NSO), although they traditionally always strive for a collaborative approach.
“We have the right to designate and identify players,” Lewis told Wired868. “While we respect the autonomy of the respective sporting association, we have our own due diligence.
“This is the first time gymnastics has reached this far and they will not be accustomed to what the Olympic Committee can do in this process.
“They may not be unaware of rule 27 but it is an unambiguous rule in terms of what we can do. There is no argument there as far as we are concerned.”
The gymnastics board might be many things. But, as the events of the past six months suggest, the TTGF is neither naive or uninformed.
As the social media buzzed about what Lewis’ tweet might mean to the unfolding drama, the gymnastics board put a call through to the FIG at about 11 pm last night, just to confirm what its members already knew.
It would have been roughly 5 am in Lausanne, Switzerland—where the FIG is headquartered—but, according to the gymnastics insider, the TTGF got the answer it was looking for.
“The spot is Marisa’s,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is an individual spot. When you do the Test event and you get through, that spot remains in your name.
“If you get sick and cannot take that spot, you cannot transfer it. That spot then goes to a reserve.”
And then came the clincher. The TTGF, according to the source, was not at all blindsided by Lewis’ tweet and had long been aware of the powers granted to the TTOC by the Olympic charter.
“We recognise that the TTOC has the final say on whether gymnastics will compete in the Olympic Games,” said the source. “It is out of the Federation’s hands completely. It is up to the TTOC to decide.
“I expect that the TTGF will do their part (in the selection process) and participate fully (with the TTOC).”
The Trinidad and Tobago gymnastics fraternity has never qualified for the Olympics before. It has done so now.
But it will be the TTOC or, more accurately, the body’s games management committee of Annette Knott, Ian Hypolite, Diane Henderson and Dr Terry Ali, who will have to figuratively look the 18 year old Dick in the eye and say that they prefer to send nobody to the Olympics than to send her.
Arguably, the TTGF has engineered a lose-lose position for the TTOC. The National Olympic Committee (NOC) must either send Dick to Rio or stop history in the making for gymnastics.
Once more, the momentous decision looks likely to be played out with no meaningful input from Sport Minister Darryl Smith.
Smith, who has steadfastly refused to attempt moral persuasion, told I95.5FM today that he will not stop State funding to the gymnastics body, despite a petition asking him to do so in response to the TTGF’s machinations.
“I cannot do that,” said Smith, in a rare interview on the subject, “we have a funding policy which I am guided by…”
Lewis and the TTOC, which is legally advised by Elton Prescott SC, had considered—at least theoretically—all possible scenarios, including the option of refusing to send a gymnast to Rio.
Whether Lewis ever thought it would come to that—or considered this option as a mere bluff—is another story.
“We have sent back selections (from NSOs) in the past on the basis that it didn’t meet the agreed criteria,” said Lewis, “which might have been beep test (fitness) scores or what have you…
“There may be reasons why a NOC may not take up a place if it feels the sporting body isn’t properly prepared and so on.”
It might be a stretch to question Dick’s fitness or suggest that she is not properly prepared for international competition.
Lewis gave some more insight into the duty of his games management committee.
“When the games management committee meets, there will be a particular checklist they will go through,” Lewis told Wired868. “They will check things like athlete eligibility, age requirements, the qualification standard established by FIG…
“The process under which an alternate could change…”
If Marquez’s decision at 12.27 am on Saturday April 16 is deemed to be unfair to Williams, then Dick could logically be ruled to have benefited from an act of injustice.
It would mean the process that led to Dick’s Olympic qualification is flawed. And, as a result, the TTOC could deny her the chance to further reap the rewards of it.
Williams’ attorney, Keith Scotland, has hinted at legal action against the TTGF for denying his client the chance to perform.
Scotland described the TTGF’s decision as: “irrational, illegal and null and void.”
If Williams decides to stand up for herself against the gymnastics body’s perceived unjust act, it could put further pressure on the TTOC and open them up to legal action if they endorse Dick.
If the TTOC does not select Dick, there is the chance that either Dick or the TTGF could sue on the grounds that, as Lewis conceded: “Marisa Dick now has a legitimate expectation of performing at the Rio Olympics.”
Lewis said, although the TTOC can only select one athlete for Rio, the local Olympic body does not now become a rubber stamp.
“All that changes is the option that the TTOC will have, that’s all,” said the TTOC president. “What does not change is the right and duty of the TTOC under rule 27.”
Once the FIG officially informs the TTOC of its quota for the Rio Olympics, the local body will have two weeks to decide whether or not to use its lone spot.
It will be Dick or nothing.
At 11.30 pm on Tuesday April 19, Williams returns from Rio and lands at the Piarco International Airport.
She will not return to Rio in August for the Olympic Games.
Yesterday, in her first public statement since she was unceremoniously replaced by Dick, Williams, a budding art student, painted a dreadlocked man smoking with the words: “Love is destructive.”
Beneath, she wrote: “What’s bad for my heart is good for my art. I’ll be alright.”
There was an Instagram photo too of the former St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) student at Rio’s famous statue of Christ the Redemer with a Trinidad and Tobago flag.
At the top of Williams’ Twitter page, she had pinned another quote: “Who Jah Bless, no man curse.”