On 7 August 2016, 19 year old Marisa Dick will become Trinidad and Tobago’s first ever gymnast to participate in an Olympic Games. But the cost of her achievement could be the financial ruin and permanent loss of reputation of the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) and, in particular, its president David Marquez, first vice-president Akil Wattley, second vice-president Ricardo Lue Shue and his wife and assistant treasurer Donna Lue Shue.
And, although not named as defendants, the behaviour of Dick and, in particular, her mother, Hannifer Dick, will also be explored over the course of the court action. Hannifer is accused of instigating unfair treatment towards 20 year old Trinidad and Tobago gymnast, Thema Williams, so as to benefit her own daughter.
Williams officially filed suit on Thursday 27 July against the TTGF, Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues at the High Court of Justice of Port of Spain for in excess of TT$11.3 million for damages borne from their controversial decision to axe her in favour of her alternate, Dick, for the Rio Test Event on 17 April 2016.
Williams qualified for the Olympic Test Event by bettering Dick at the Glasgow 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships to secure the sole spot available to Trinidad and Tobago.
But, on the eve of her final qualifying competition in Rio, the TTGF controversially withdrew Williams and inserted Dick to compete in her place.
Marquez claimed Williams was injured and pointed to an email from her coach, John Geddert, as justification. But the athlete, coach and TTGF head of delegation all insisted she was fit to compete while she was also allegedly cleared to take part by a doctor in Rio.
Williams’ legal team of senior counsel Martin Daly SC, advocate attorney Keith Scotland and instructing attorney Reza Ramjohn will try to convince the court that the gymnastics officials wrongfully and maliciously gave her hard-earned “opportunity of a lifetime” to Dick.
Whatever the eventual decision by the assigned judge, Williams’ Statement of Case suggests that the gymnastics quartet will endure an unprecedented courtroom interrogation for local sport administrators, which will scrutinise the motivation behind their decision and the potential impact on the athlete in question.
Contracts, emails, phone calls and even text messages were submitted as evidence on Thursday, as Williams’ attorneys threw down the gauntlet. The TTGF and the four officials will be defended by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC and Ronnie Bissessar.
The case itself was filed as a breach of contract/duty and tort by the four officials and the local sporting body. But the language of the document itself was even more damning and suggested that the financial wellbeing of the administrators is not the extent of their problems in this matter.
As sport fans worldwide prepare to see the best athletes on the planet in action, Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues stand accused of scheming to deny 20 year old Williams of her chance to compete for no reason but victimisation, hatred and/or illegitimate bias towards Dick.
“[David Marquez, Akil Wattley, Ricardo Lue Shue and Donna Lue Shue] (or any two or more of them together) conspired and combined together wrongfully and with the sole or predominant intention of injuring [the dream of Thema Williams] and/or causing loss to [Williams] by depriving her of the opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and/or by wrongfully and/or in the circumstances set out at paragraph 19 above promoting Marisa [Dick] at the expense of [Williams].
“The motivation of the [gymnastics officials] was improper, wholly unreasonable, unfair, irrational and represented unadulterated opportunism to further a collateral purpose of victimisation and hatred of [Williams] and/or an illegitimate bias towards Marisa and/or a breach of the contractual obligations and/or duties owed to [Williams] by the Defendants or any of them.”
Williams’ legal team argued that the gymnastics officials breached a written contract and violated the trust of the young gymnast and their responsibility to be fair and impartial in their duties, by withdrawing her without allowing the Tots and Tumblers athlete, Geddert or head of delegation Nicole Fuentes—or any combination of the three—the opportunity to put forward a case before their decision.
Incidentally, there is dispute over Fuentes’ role in Rio. Marquez initially addressed her as the TTGF’s head of delegation but subsequently stated that he acted as HOD despite remaining in Trinidad.
And, crucially, Williams’ attorneys claimed that Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues—or any combination of the four—had placed themselves in “positions of conflict of interest” due to previously expressed partisan positions against their client which, arguably, contaminated their decision making process.
The case of bias against the quartet hinges on five specific points:
On or about 8 October 2015, Marquez, via email, suggested that Geddert’s wife be allowed to join Williams’ coaching staff so as to superficially address a perceived advantage to Dick going into the 2015 World Gymnastics competition. The TTGF president suggested “by way of encouragement” that the Glasgow tournament would be Williams’ last.
Disadvantaged or not, Williams placed 59th in Glasgow, which was a record for a Trinidad and Tobago gymnast and 18 places higher than Dick.
Williams’ accomplishment was met with insult, as Wattley derided her as “unsportsmanlike” and claimed that her attitude embarrassed the country and she “should be dealt with”.
Wattley’s perceived character assault on Williams was done, according to her attorneys, “at the instigation of [Dick’s mother, Hannifer Dick] and/or other persons connected with Marisa.”
Williams’ attorneys further stated that Ricardo Lue Shue, a former TTGF president, had acted previously as Dick’s coach and travelled to Rio within 24 hours of participating in a decision to axe the qualified athlete without prior consultation with Williams, Geddert or Fuentes—or any combination of the three.
Lue Shue (R), arguably, had a conflict of interest from his relationship with Dick while he personally benefitted from the decision. And his wife, Donna Lue Shue, solicited votes for Dick for an award, last December, when she referred to her as “my gymnast Marisa Dick”. Lue Shue (D) also referred to Dick, who was born and bred in Canada, as “my gymnast from Canada”.
Lue Shue (D) was also involved in the decision to replace Williams and personally called around to procure votes to have Dick usurp the accredited gymnast.
The defendants (or any two or more of them together) also instructed Dick, according to the Statement of Case, to travel to Rio in order to take Williams’ place prior to and/or without communicating with either Williams, Geddert or Fuentes—or any combination of the three.
“[The TTGF, Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] conspired and combined together to deprive the Claimant of the opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.”
Williams’ attorneys suggested the five defendants further demonstrated that they were acting in bad faith by ignoring their client’s attempt to appeal the decision or seek arbitration.
“[Williams] did not receive even the courtesy of an acknowledgment of her dispute from the [TTGF], another example of its arbitrary and high-handed behaviour toward the Claimant.”
Williams’ attorney listed 16 points as particulars of loss and damage to the aggrieved gymnast, which included:
- Loss of the valuable opportunity to be an Olympian and the promotional benefits of international exposure and/or advertising contracts, product endorsements, related business engagements such as coaching, lecturing and motivational speaking, enhanced by: being Trinidad and Tobago’s first gymnast, the “current high interest in gymnastics of colour created by the recent entry and success of female gymnasts of colour in recent Olympics” and being the only English-speaking Caribbean gymnast at the Rio Olympics who is born in the country they are representing.
- Deprivation of the Olympic opportunity made more grave by: Williams’ age at the time of the TTGF officials’ wrongful acts, the relationship of the opportunity to the four-year Olympic cycle; the limited age beyond which gymnasts do not normally perform internationally; her lifetime of preparation to qualify for a once in a lifetime opportunity; the wrongful acts of the gymnastics officials which were calculated to provide someone else with an opportunity that rightfully belonged to Williams; the potential for Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues—or any combination of the four—to realise value and benefits for themselves as a result of their wrongful acts; the arbitrary and high-handed manner which the Defendants and/or any of them conducted themselves in the discharge of their powers over Williams.
- Psychological damage, mental anguish, distress and associated stress related and/or companion to the pecuniary loss of opportunity set out above.
- Damage to Williams’ reputation, humiliation and embarrassment both nationally and internationally particularly having regard to the predominance of social media, such damage also related to and/or companion to the said pecuniary loss.
- Given her expectation of the opportunity to become an Olympian, loss of the opportunity of a four-year gymnastics scholarship to Michigan State University in 2014 valued at approximately US$216,460 (TT$1,385,384).
Williams is claiming damages for breach of contract and/or breach of duty; damages for the torts of conspiracy and/or procuring breach of contract and/or unlawful interference with her contractual relations; aggravated and/or exemplary damages; interest; costs; and such further or other relief as to the Court seems just.
The Thema Williams Case
Claimant: Thema Williams
Legal Team: Martin G Daly SC, Keith Scotland, Reza Ramjohn
First Defendant: Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF)
Second Defendant: David Marquez
Third Defendant: Akil Wattley
Fourth Defendant: Ricardo Lue Shue
Fifth Defendant: Donna Lue Shue
- The Second Defendant in or about October 8, 2015, at a time when the Claimant had not yet participated in the Glasgow Championships were seeking to solicit the wife of the Claimant’s coach as an additional coach for the Claimant purportedly to address a perceived disadvantage while at the same time expressing the view, by way of encouragement to agree to the solicitation that Glasgow Championships would most likely be the Claimant’s last competition.
- The Third Defendant in or about November 2015 had declared the Claimant to be unsportsmanlike and expressed his opinion to the other Defendants or some of them that matters concerning the Claimant and her coach’s attitude should be dealt with in person and had embarrassed the country and/or had done so at the instigation of the mother of and/or other persons connected with Marisa.
- The Fourth Defendant was, prior to the events described above, the assistant coach of Marisa, a fact known to the other Defendants and/or some of them and/or attended the Rio Test Event in the capacity of coach to Marisa within 24 hours of participating in the decision to withdraw the Claimant from the Rio Test Event without any prior notification to the Claimant and/or her coach and/or her therapist.
- The Fifth Defendant in or around December 2015 solicited votes for an award for Marisa, referring to her as as “my gymnast Marisa Dick” and on or around the 15th or 16th April 2016, although in a conflict of interest position, set about contacting members of the First Defendant’s Council, whom she knew were also in positions of conflict of interest, to procure their votes for Marisa to replace the Claimant at the Rio Test Event. Such persons included but were not necessarily limited to the other Defendants or some of them.
- The Defendants (or any two or more of them together) caused an instruction to be delivered to Marisa for her to travel to Rio in order to take the Claimant’s place at the Rio Test Event prior to and/or without communicating with either the Claimant and/or her coach and/or her therapist and/or designated head of delegation.
- The Claimant reserves the right to add to these particulars following discovery in the action.
Particulars of Loss and Damage:
1. Loss of the valuable opportunity to be an Olympian which containing the promotional benefits of international exposure, advertising contracts and/or product endorsements and/or related business engagements such as coaching, lecturing and motivational speaking, enhanced by the following circumstances:
- The historic circumstance of the first female gymnast from Trinidad and Tobago to compete in women’s gymnastics at that level;
- The current high interest in gymnastics of colour created by the recent entry and success of female gymnasts of colour in recent Olympics.
- The additional high interest in gymnastics in the Caribbean created by three Jamaican gymnasts, two of whom are female, providing Jamaica with representation in Olympic gymnastics for the first time.
- Among the current crop of the English speaking Caribbean gymnasts, the Claimant being uniquely among them born in the country she is representing.
2. Deprivation of the opportunity made more grave by:
- The Claimant’s age at the time of the Defendants’ wrongful acts;
- The relationship of the opportunity to the four-year Olympic cycle;
- The limited age beyond which gymnasts do not normally perform internationally;
- The Claimant’s lifetime of preparation, practice and training to qualify for what is essentially a once in a lifetime opportunity to be an Olympian;
- The wrongful acts of the Defendants calculated to provide someone else with an opportunity of a lifetime that rightfully belonged to the Claimant for which she prepared, completed and earned.
- The potential for the Second and/or the Third and/or the Fourth and/or for the Fourth and/or Fifth Defendants to realise value and benefits for themselves as a result of their wrongful acts.
- The arbitrary and high-handed manner which the Defendants and/or any of them conducted themselves in the discharge of their powers over and/or their duties to the Claimant.
3. Psychological damage, mental anguish, distress and associated stress related and/or companion to the pecuniary loss of opportunity set out above.
4. Damage to the Claimant’s reputation, humiliation and embarrassment both nationally and internationally particularly having regard to the predominance of social media, such damage also related to and/or companion to the said pecuniary loss.
5. Given her expectation of the opportunity to become an Olympian, loss of the opportunity to proceed with an offer the the award of a four-year gymnastics scholarship at the prestigious Michigan State University to fill an open spot immediate for the fall semester 2014. This scholarship was worth approximately $216,460 USD ($1,385,384 TTD).
- Damages for breach of contract and/or breach of duty;
- Damages for the torts of conspiracy and/or procuring breach of contract and/or unlawful interference with her contractual relations;
- Aggravated and/or exemplary damages;
- Such further or other relief as to the Court seems just.
Tuition and Fees: US$37,912.00
Room and Board: US$10,412.00
Books and Supplies: US$1,068.00
Personal Expenses: US$2,648.00
Total Per Year: US$54,115.00
Total over 4 years: US$216,460.00 (TT$1,385,384.00)
Aggravated Damages: TT$10 million