The Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA) will hold a Management Committee meeting this weekend in a bid to save itself from a potential legal hammering from Madame Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell in the Port-of-Spain High Court.
The Trinidad Guardian newspaper reported today that the TTTTA decided to send Dexter St Louis and Rheann Chung to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, after their appeal against an injunction—which prevented the National Sporting Organisation (NSO) from registering its preferred choice of Aaron Wilson and Yuvraaj Dookram for the prestigious competition—was tossed out by the Court of Appeal yesterday.
However, all parties in the matter confirmed that the Guardian report was false—or, at best, premature.
Still, the local table tennis body is indeed seeking a way out of the legal quagmire in which it finds itself, which is the reason for the emergency meeting. And the possibility of replacing Wilson and Dookram with St Louis and Chung will be on the table.
The problem, according to one legal mind with knowledge of the case, is that to de-select Wilson and Dookram or make any changes whatsoever in relation to the Commonwealth Games is potentially a violation of the court order and risks the TTTTA being deemed in contempt.
“The rules of court are once an injunction is in place,” said the attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, “the case cannot be dropped until the judge formally agrees.”
The TTTTA, which is headed by president Ian Joseph and general secretary Aleena Edwards, is represented by attorneys Stefan Ramkissoon, Dinesh Rambally and Kiel Tacklalsingh while St Louis and Chung are represented by attorneys Dr Emir Crowne, Sheriza Khan and Matthew Gayle.
That is not the only possible sticking point in the TTTTA’s apparent scramble to disentangle itself from its ongoing court battle with St Louis and Chung over whether due process was followed in excluding the pair from the Games team.
The France-based stars filed suit owing to their dissatisfaction with the NSO’s selection process for the Commonwealth Games. Can the TTTTA Management Committee now simply overrule its Selection Committee at the 23rd hour?
Gayle, attorney for St Louis and Chung, suggested that his clients never felt the Commonwealth Games spots should be handed to them—although they do feel they are the best choices. What the celebrated duo want is a fair process.
“The action against the TTTTA was commenced in the High Court because, in their view, the TTTTA used an unfair selection process to select players for the 2018 Commonwealth Games,” said Gayle. “They have done this reluctantly but because they have formed the view that this unfair conduct has become pervasive in the organisation and only following the TTTTA’s refusal to refer their dispute to Arbitration.
“As a matter of first choice, they would have preferred the matter be arbitrated.”
Gayle stressed that the TTTTA has not yet made a formal offer to his clients.
“No formal offer at all has been received by my clients, whether on the terms as suggested in [the Trinidad Guardian] article, or on any other terms,” said the attorney. “I therefore have no instructions on whether such terms would be agreeable to my clients—though they have asked me to point out that the underlying point and purpose of their action was to ensure a fair process, which can withstand scrutiny, be applied to player selection by the TTTTA in this and future Games.”
Whether the TTTTA Management Committee can simply overrule its Selection Committee and select two players who it vehemently argued were ineligible is another question.
Apart from the ethical considerations, will the table tennis body then also open itself up to litigation from Wilson and Dookram?
A TTTTA insider insisted that the Management Committee has final say over team selection and described the Selection Committee as no more than an advisory body. He noted that the Selection Committee initially chose Wilson and Arun Roopnarine for the Games but was overruled by the Management Committee, which felt Dookram was in better form than the latter player.
The table tennis body did indeed replace Roopnarine with Dookram; but it is uncertain whether it had the legal authority to do so. According to Article 10.2 of the TTTTA’s constitution, the Selection Committee “shall select all National Teams and other such teams as the Management Committee may direct.”
It is the only reference to team selection in the Constitution.
However, Article 10.10 states: “The decisions of Standing Committees on matters within their competence must be ratified by the Management Committee.”
Whether replacing the Selection Committee’s picks with two players of your own five months after the fact can be interpreted as a “ratifying” job by the Management Committee might be open to interpretation.
Either way, it will be left to Donaldson-Honeywell to determine, on Monday, whether the TTTTA violated her court order. The High Court Judge has little doubt as to what the table tennis body thought of her injunction in the first place.
On Friday, the NSO’s legal team described Donaldson-Honeywell’s previous ruling as “bullying”, “illogical”, “a cumulative result of errors in principle, procedure and substance thereby causing manifest injustice” and such a “misapprehension [of] evidence […] that no reasonable persons would have come to the same conclusion.”
The Court of Appeal sided with Madame Justice, however. And that decision, made on Friday, has left the TTTTA scrambling to find an out-of-court settlement before Monday’s trial.
One source close to the TTTTA legal team said Joseph’s decision to belatedly consider St Louis and Chung was not self-serving.
“For the betterment of table tennis as a whole, his view is it is better to send two people [to the Commonwealth Games] than no one,” said the source. “But it is not a one-person executive so that has to be ratified in a meeting.”
Ironically, on Friday, Court of Appeal Judges Prakash Moosai, Peter Jamadar and Allan Mendonça asked both parties if they would agree to have the TTTTA restart its selection procession for the Games, which would have meant a formal order to remit the case to them.
Gayle contacted St Louis and Chung in France and they said ‘yes’. But Ramkissoon failed to reach Joseph, who is in Cuba at present along with Edwards and several other executive members. And first vice-president Simon Spicer, who was in court, did not feel suitably empowered to make the call without consultation with his colleagues.
It was the last of close to a half-dozen opportunities that the NSO had for compromise outside of court.
Moosai, Jamadar and Mendonça considered the possibility that the injunction could leave Trinidad and Tobago without a table tennis player at the Commonwealth Games.
The crucial question, they suggested, was: should Wilson and Dookram be allowed to benefit from a potentially unfair selection process?
It was, arguably, the Thema Williams, Marisa Dick and Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) scenario all over again.
The Court of Appeal Judges decided unanimously that the balance of convenience lay with St Louis and Chung and ruled accordingly. And the TTTTA knew that only trouble lay ahead.
The table tennis 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).
The five members of the TTTTA’s selection committee are Aleena Edwards, 1st vice-president Simon Spicer, North Zone president Merle Baggoo, East Zone secretary Dave Williams and South Zone president Vasdev Bob Roopnarine.