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St Louis/Chung v TTTTA: Court ruling could deny T&T’s table tennis place at Commonwealth Games

The Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA) runs the risk of missing out on the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games as its legal stand-off with the France-based duo of Dexter St Louis and Rheann Chung heads into its final act.

Yesterday morning, High Court Judge Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell ruled that the impasse between both parties will go to trial on Monday 5 March—unless they can solve the issue themselves in the interim.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago table tennis star Dexter St Louis (left) attacks opponent David Mahabir during the 2016 Solo National Championships at the Central Regional Indoor Sports Arena in Saith Park, Chaguanas.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Wired868 understands that the ruling was met with shock and dismay by the local table tennis body, which must choose between appealing the decision, agreeing to arbitration or taking their chances on a court trial.

The TTTTA is represented by attorneys Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Tacklalsingh and Stefan Ramkissoon while St Louis and Chung are represented by Dr Emir Crowne, Sheriza Khan and Matthew Gayle.

Justice Donaldson-Honeywell declared that she could not force the National Sporting Organisation (NSO) to use arbitration and dismissed the request from St Louis and Chung for her to do so. However, she advised the TTTTA to use arbitration.

A court trial carries the possibility that no table tennis player would represent the country at the prestigious tournament in Australia—particularly as the trial date is just 24 hours before the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) must confirm its list of nominated athletes for the Games.

Almost four months ago, the TTTTA, currently headed by president Ian Joseph and whose executive includes general secretary Aleena Edwards and first vice-president Simon Spicer, named Aaron Wilson and Yuvraaj Dookram as their picks with Arun Roopnarine as reserve.

Photo: Rising Trinidad and Tobago table tennis talent Yuvraaj Dookram (left) receives silverware from TTTTA official Vasdev Bob Roopnarine.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Edwards and Spicer are both members of the TTTTA’s five-member selection committee, which also includes North Zone president Merle Baggoo, East Zone secretary Dave Williams and South Zone president Vasdev Bob Roopnarine, father of Arun.

St Louis and Chung, his step-daughter, countered that the selection process was unfair and, after failing to get satisfaction from the governing body and the TTOC, turned to the court.

St Louis, a two-time Olympian, is 49 while Chung is 32. They are the most accomplished players in Trinidad and Tobago’s table tennis history with, among other accolades, five Caribbean titles each. No other local has won a regional senior title in four decades.

“I was unfairly bypassed for selection for the 2018 Commonwealth Games,” stated Chung, in a court affidavit. “I was neither given an opportunity nor informed of any trial events for selection by the TTTTA, despite my previous contributions as a national of Trinidad and Tobago, often at my own cost.

“[…] On the face of it, none of the players who have been chosen [Aaron Wilson, Yuvraaj Dookram and reserve Arun Roopnarine] have the standard of play that either [Dexter St Louis] or myself have.

Photo: Rheann Chung prepares to attack the ball during the 2016 Solo National Championships at the Central Regional Indoor Sports Arena in Saith Park, Chaguanas.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“I […] believe that, had I been given a fair and just opportunity, I would have been selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.”

Four years ago, the TTTTA was awarded eight spots for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and sent men’s representatives St Louis, Wilson, Dookram, Curtis Humpheys  and Chung, Edwards, Catherine Spicer and Ashley Quashie as women’s representatives to the tournament.

On this occasion, the local governing body received only two places. Edwards insisted that the TTTTA followed correct procedure in their final selections.

“Since the new executive took office in Jan 2017, official emails were sent to all foreign-based players,” said the TTTTA general secretary’s affidavit, “informing them of the new executive members and also asked (sic) them to state their interest in representing the country for 2017.

“[…] Further, when TTOC asked for each individual player’s requirements, emails were sent to both Rheann and Dexter asking for their details but (we) did not receive any responses from them to enter into the visa online system.

Photo: TTTTA general secretary Aleena Edwards (right) prepares to return a Rheann Chung shot during the 2016 Solo National Championships at the Central Regional Indoor Sports Arena in Saith Park, Chaguanas.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“[…] The selection of players is not based merely on a comparison of standard of play between [the chosen players] and [St Louis and Chung]. The Association duly followed the Association’s policy and procedures in the selection of the players.”

However, after reading affidavits from 10 persons on either side, Justice Donaldson-Honeywell chose to extend the injunction against the table tennis body “until further order,” which effectively stops the TTTTA from re-starting any preparations for the prestigious tournament.

The timing of the trial is important.

Yesterday, eight of the TTOC’s 10 sporting disciplines invited to participate in the Commonwealth Games submitted their nominations. Those eight bodies represent the following sports: aquatics, boxing, beach volleyball, badminton, cycling, squash, shooting and gymnastics. Only two remain  outstanding, athletics and table tennis.

The TTOC must submit its final list of competing athletes to the Commonwealth Games byn Tuesday 6 March.

The National Association of Athletic Administrations of Trinidad and Tobago (NAAATT) holds its trials for the Games on 17 and 18 February at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain and should choose its 30 athletes with two weeks to spare.

Photo: TTOC president Brian Lewis (far left) poses with 4×400 World champions (from left) Lalonde Gordon, Machel Cedenio, Renny Quow and Jereem Richards during the TTOC 2017 Awards.
(Copyright TTOC)

But the TTTTA will have less than 24 hours remaining when its officials next appear before Justice Donaldson-Honeywell. And the risk extends beyond whether Edwards and company can send the players of their choosing to Australia.

The Judge has already informed the local governing body that she would consider a “wasted costs order” in favour of St Louis and Chung.

“The grounds on which the said order is being considered […] are that the (TTTTA) refused unreasonably to try an alternate dispute resolution procedure of arbitration,” stated Justice Donaldson-Honeywell, “although said method may have been more expeditious, less costly and equally if not more effective in achieving a just result based on specialisation of the tribunal in sports practice and law.

“And that by the said refusal the (TTTTA) may have caused all parties to incur costs and delays unnecessarily.”

The TTTTA can invoke arbitration from the TTOC at any time but has resisted.

“If we go to arbitration, we may have to compromise our position,” Joseph told Wired868 last month. “The TTOC has given all NSOs an objective of 10 gold [medals] by 2024 and that speaks to the age of our players.

Photo: Aaron Wilson, 19, got the nod from the TTTTA to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

“Aaron Wilson is 19 years old and in 2024 he should be at the peak of his career. Dexter will be 50 in March so there must be a changing of the guard [sometime].”

Wilson, Trinidad and Tobago’s top-ranked local player, initially planned to head to Spain in January to prepare for the Games while Dookram was considering a similar stint in the United States. Both are still in Trinidad. The ongoing legal matter and the uncertainty in relation to their final selections are likely to overshadow their preparations.

TTOC president Brian Lewis told Wired868 that he believes arbitration is the best way forward.

“The Olympic Committee stands ready as always to act when required by the parties involved,” said Lewis last month. “We believe these matters can be best resolved through the process of conflict resolution.”

Dr Crowne, a Canada-based sport attorney, suggested that the TTOC’s Constitution favoured sporting bodies over athletes.

“It is materially unfair to athletes for the TTOC to operate under such a unilateral appeal scheme,” stated Dr Crowne, in an email exchange with Lewis. “No fair and just sports dispute resolution system operates a unilateral appeal scheme. None. The TTOC, despite its talk of governance reform, has therefore done little to provide a meaningful dispute resolution mechanism for its athletes.

Photo: Sport Minister Darryl Smith (right) presents a facsimile of a TT$3 million cheque to TTOC president Brian Lewis (centre) and general secretary Annette Knott at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs on 9 January 2017.
(Courtesy MYSA)

“NSOs, left to their own devices, have no impetus or motive to bring their disputes forward [to arbitration].”

The TTTTA has made it clear it does not favour arbitration—based, according to Joseph, on its confidence in its own decision-making as well as the more subjective feeling that it was time for a change of the guards with the long-term goal of the 2024 Olympics in mind.

Both financially and in terms of the ambitions of St Louis, Chung, Wilson and Dookram, if Joseph and his executive are defeated in court next month, that may well prove to be a very costly gambit.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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12 comments

  1. This is a constitutional issue .When Leaders and followers do not understand the constitution which governs and guides their actions or lack thereof .,You have chaos. Check a similar position held by the Gymnastic Association .of T&T.Check the cricket Association,Check the Soccer Association .Now you have the Table tennis Association..Check the West Indies cricket Association . Is it that Locals need to revisit their I.E.P. or create one ?

  2. For me…this is a troubling statement.

    “Aaron Wilson is 19 years old and in 2024 he should be at the peak of his career. Dexter will be 50 in March so there must be a changing of the guard [sometime].”

    Without trials being held with all prospective players involved I see no need for a statement like that.
    Kim Collins is 43 years old and still running sub 10:00 for the 100m.
    I am sure they can resolve this with arbitration.
    I am familiar with two of the Board members and I know they are not backing down. That’s just how they operate.

  3. Joseph’s position as it relates to arbitration is unreasonable, and borders on the illogical. I understand he has ‘confidence’ in the TTTTA’s internal processes, but the court has essentially ruled that out as an option, leaving litigation or arbitration as the alternatives. Litigation is the surer and more legally sound route, but also the more expensive, and more fraught with peril. At this point arbitration remains the only true alternative.

    All that being said the actions of St. Louis and Chung (at least on the surface) appear nothing but self-serving and distasteful. Their own apparent irresponsibility in not following proper procedure for consideration aside, Chung’s arrogant assertion that the athletes selected by the governing body are somehow less competent to represent the country than her, is very off-putting. Surely her years of schooling and training should have prepared her enough as to find a better way to make her case than be saying “they’re not as good as I am.” Squarely puts in context her actions in this dispute, this is all about her and not at all what may be best for the country.

  4. everybody have court clothes these days yes!

  5. For me…this is a troubling statement.

    “Aaron Wilson is 19 years old and in 2024 he should be at the peak of his career. Dexter will be 50 in March so there must be a changing of the guard [sometime].”

    Without trials being held with all prospective players involved I see no need for a statement like that.
    Kim Collins is 43 years old and still running sub 10 for the 100m.
    I am sure they can resolve this with arbitration.
    I am familiar with two of the Board members and I know they are not backing down. That’s just how they operate.

  6. Bacchanal in sport again. What’s new? Same story , different sporting organization