“This circumstance and situation is a dark cloud over the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic movement,” said Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis. “It was one of the most gruelling and difficult situations that the TTOC has ever found itself in. We could have made decisions on the basis of purely our emotion and anger but that wasn’t the responsible legal position to take.
“This is not a very happy day for the TTOC, the Olympic movement and the members of the games committee.”
It was, almost certainly, the least enthusiastic announcement of an Olympic place in the 122-year history of the modern Games, as 18-year-old gymnast Marisa Dick—who has dual Canada and Trinidad and Tobago citizenship—was declared as the TTOC’s representative for gymnastics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The choice, for the TTOC, was between Dick or nobody. And the fact that Lewis described such a decision as “gruelling and difficult” spoke volumes to the chaos that enveloped the sport, even before Dick controversially replaced 20-year-old Thema Williams on the eve of the Rio Test event on April 17.
Lewis revealed that, in the last two weeks, he received a pre-action protocol letter from the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF)—after he tweeted that the TTOC would not rubber-stamp the TTGF’s wishes—legal warnings from Williams’ attorneys and the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) and threats of financial boycott from the public.
“The TTOC wasn’t between a rock and a hard place,” said Lewis, in response to one question. “The TTOC was between a rock and a very hard rock.”
The TTGF, who has generally been cast as the villain of the piece, made a curt and non-contentious statement.
“We are very grateful to the TTOC for allowing gymnastics to be a part of the Olympics for the first time in the history of Trinidad and Tobago,” said TTGF general secretary Elicia Peters-Charles.
Not that the TTOC had much praise for the TTGF on the day. Instead, Lewis promised action against the local gymnastics body.
“The TTOC has considered issues surrounding the process and will be invoking its authority under clause 13 of its constitution,” said Lewis, “to determine whether the TTGF has infringed the TTOC constitution, the Olympic charter, and the International Olympic Committee’s code of ethics in respect of their duty to be fair.”
Peters-Charles declined comment on the TTOC threat.
“At this moment, as the general secretary, I am not at liberty saying anything else,” she said.
It was just as well Peters-Charles did not respond. So far every attempt to corner the TTGF has been as effective as attempting to punch your own shadow.
Williams’ coach, John Geddert, was mad enough for everyone else.
“What a shameful moment in sports,” stated Geddert, on his Facebook wall. “If there were ever a blatant display of unethical and corrupt sports management, this was it! The TTGF showcased their 10 foot tall and bullet proof, in your face, we do as we please, the hell with who gets hurt in the process, mentality for the world to see.
“What an epic moment for the proper message to be sent in response to the narcissistic and unthinkable actions. What an opportunity to show the world that honesty, integrity and rules do matter.
“What a moment to stand firm and stand tall. What a shame!”
Ironically, it was Geddert’s clumsy training report that the TTGF used to remove Williams from Rio in the first place. And his track record might also work against him.
A gymnastics insider was quick to point out that star United States gymnast Jordyn Wieber confessed to competing with a stress fracture in her right leg at the London 2012 Olympics. She failed to land an individual medal at the competition. Geddert was her coach.
Michelle Frankland, gymnastics coach and daughter of Tots and Tumblers club founder Annette Telfer, called it “a sad day for gymnastics” and sport governance on the whole. Williams was a former pupil of their gymnastics programme.
“It sends a clear signal that good governance at the end of the day does not matter,” Frankland told Wired868, “that the TTGF can break its own rules and policies and come out with their heads held high. It is a very sad day.
“I don’t believe that Trinidad and Tobago gymnastics is being very fairly represented in the Olympics. The rules and policies used to get the secured spot were not transparent and they were not in the interest of fair play.”
Did Lewis believe that the TTOC’s decision to send Dick to Rio vindicated the TTGF?
“The international federation whose jurisdiction it is to say whether there were breaches in their rules and procedures,” said Lewis, in reference to what he described as the ‘curious’ FIG intervention, “confirmed on Friday 29 of April that there were no breaches of their breaches and procedures as it relates (to) the Olympic Test event.”
So how can the local Olympic committee take action against the TTGF for a decision that it deemed to be legal?
“What we will focus on is the decision-making process and in the context of a duty to be fair,” Lewis told Wired868. “My thinking is that we will appoint an independent group because I don’t want anyone to perceive the TTOC as unfair or prejudiced or biased…
“We are going to look into that direction.”
There was no response to the ruling from Dick, although it is likely that she has returned to her home in Canada.
Her social media pages have been wiped clean of public comments, after she was targeted for abuse in recent weeks.
In contrast, it was a love-in on Williams’ pages.
Ifran tweeted to Thema: “I love you. We love you. Gawd girl this pain, this pain, if we could eat it for you we would. Trust that it’ll get better.”
Ameniki Safiya channelled pop star Beyoncé’s new album, which is seen as a symbol of defiance in the face of heartbreak: “You are amazing… Make your own #lemonade.”
As always, Williams was poised, economical and profound in her own public response.
“Who feels it,” she tweeted, “knows it.”