The legal stakes continue to rise in the impasse between star players Dexter St Louis and Rheann Chung and the Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA). The umbrella body has again ignored the arbitration route and instead responded with a blistering counter-attack on Madame Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell.
The TTTTA, represented by attorneys Stefan Ramkissoon, Dinesh Rambally and Kiel Tacklalsingh, essentially accused Donaldson-Honeywell of botching the court matter.
“The learned Judge misdirected herself in law, did not observe the applicable principles,” stated the TTTTA appeal, “and/or misapprehended the evidence in such a way that no reasonable persons would have come to the same conclusion.”
The body’s Executive comprises Ian Joseph (president), Simon Spicer (1st vice-president), Verna Edwards (2nd vice-president), Clive Ramsingh (3rd vice-president), Aleena Edwards (general secretary), Sarita Maharaj (assistant secretary), Janice Lewis (assistant secretary), Ray Fermin (treasurer) and Sherdon Pierre (public relations officer).
St Louis and Chung, who are both based in France and are arguably the country’s most successful players of all time, are represented by attorneys Dr Emir Crowne, Sheriza Khan and Matthew Gayle.
St Louis and Chung contend that they were unfairly omitted from the TTTTA’s team for the April Commonwealth Games and have sued for damages. Last Wednesday (31 January), Donaldson-Honeywell dismissed the players’ request for the High Court to refer their grievance with the local sporting body to the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) for arbitration.
However, the High Court Judge opted to continue an injunction against the TTTTA—which effectively prevents the National Sporting Organisation (NSO) from preparing for the Games—and warned of a possible “wasted costs order” against the table tennis body as well.
“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 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 next hearing date of 5 March is barely 24 hours before the TTOC’s final deadline for submitting its team for the Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Goldcoast, Australia, and creates a considerable risk that Trinidad and Tobago will not have a table tennis player at the prestigious tournament.
The TTTTA selected Aaron Wilson and Yuvraaj Dookram as its players for the Games, with Arun Roopnarine as reserve.
Joseph suggested the table tennis body’s legal strategy is partially motivated by money. Already, the cash-strapped NSO has committed something in the region of TT$30,000 in legal fees to the case.
But Joseph and his Executive did so in the belief that they would win and be granted legal costs. Arbitration, the TTTTA president suggested, would probably force the body to have to absorb those fees.
“It is not that we are just resisting arbitration [arbitrarily],” Joseph told Wired868. “We asked our lawyers to seek costs and damages [at the start of this case]. So if we go to arbitration, there is no way for us to recover what we are paying our lawyers.”
Of course, there is a legal cost to an appeal as well. But the TTTTA’s attorneys are satisfied that their client—and not Justice Donaldson-Honeywell—is in the right. And they minced no words in saying so.
“The learned Judge’s ruling/decision imposing an injunction enjoining the (TTTTA) from advancing the selected (Wilson and Dookram),” stated the appeal, which was signed by Ramkissoon, “is a cumulative result of errors in principle, procedure and substance thereby causing manifest injustice.”
The TTTTA’s list of Donaldson-Honeywell’s alleged errors includes misuse of the injunction, failing to strike out “highly prejudicial statements,” accepting “outdated and/or unaudited bank statements” from St Louis and Chung in deciding upon likely damages, and using “unsworn email evidence” by St Louis and Chung to reinstate injunction.
According to the TTTTA’s appeal, Madame Justice was attempting to punish the NSO for exercising its right not to use arbitration.
“The learned Judge failed to appreciate properly or at all,” stated Ramkissoon’s legal document, “that the combined effect of her orders granting the injunction, dismissing the Respondent/Claimants’ application for a referral to arbitration and the notice of the likelihood of a wasted costs order being made premised on the non-consensual approach of the (TTTTA) to an alternate dispute resolution procedure of arbitration, was far remote from the legal principles of granting or refusing an injunction.
“And [was made] literally to punish the (TTTTA) for its non-consensual approach to the detriment of its own defence in the matter and the third parties selected to participate in the Commonwealth Games.”
The TTTTA contended too that Donaldson-Honeywell wrongly supported the “improper motive” of St Louis and Chung, which was that “if they were not the athletes selected to participate in the Games then no one else should attend.”
“The totality of the orders (i) granting the injunction, (ii) dismissing (St Louis and Chung’s) application for a referral to arbitration and (iii) the notice of the likelihood of a wasted costs order being made,” claimed the TTTTA’s legal team, “premised on the non-consensual approach of the (table tennis body) to an alternate dispute resolution procedure of arbitration, establish (sic) that the Court acted illogically and granted a futile injunction having regard to all the circumstances.”
It is uncertain whether, if the appeal is unsuccessful, the TTTTA will still refuse arbitration and take its chances in the High Court—despite the possibility of a “wasted costs order.”
If the NSO stands firm, the sport might go unrepresented at the Commonwealth Games. Conversely, the TTOC’s arbitration body—if used—could either rule in favour of sending Wilson and Dookram, replace them with St Louis and Chung or choose Wilson and just one of the France-based players.
The case hinges on the selection process used by the TTTTA.
“I was unfairly bypassed for selection for the 2018 Commonwealth Games,” stated Chung, in her 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 have the standard of play that either [Dexter St Louis] or myself have. 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.”
The TTTTA insists that it followed proper procedure and St Louis and Chung ruled themselves out by failing to respond within the body’s deadline for communicating their interest in playing for the country at the Commonwealth Games.
“When (the) TTOC asked for each individual player’s requirements,” stated TTTTA general secretary Edwards [A], “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. […] The persons chosen were duly chosen in accordance with the requisite processes of the Association in that regard.
“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.”
The TTTTA contends that not only were St Louis and Chung wrong in their interpretation of this matter but so was Justice Donaldson-Honeywell.