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TTOC intervention sends St Louis, Chung, Wilson and Dookram to Games! TTTTA still faces legal action

A last-gasp intervention from the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) produced a stunning outcome in the Port-of-Spain High Court today as the Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA) went from two to potentially zero and finally to four spots at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Last October, the TTTTA, which is headed by president Ian Joseph and general secretary Aleena Edwards, selected Aaron Wilson and Yuvraaj Dookram as their representatives at the competition, only to be hit with a legal challenge from St Louis and Chung, who questioned the fairness of the selection process.

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)

And the effects of an injunction from Madame Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell and a 6 March deadline to register players for the Games spawned a strong possibility that Trinidad and Tobago would not have a table tennis player at the Gold Coast-based competition.

But then, at roughly 10am today, TTOC president Brian Lewis and his legal team of Elton Prescott SC and Dave Williams strode into the courtroom and proposed to send all four athletes to Australia. It was an offer that no one could refuse.

Trinidad and Tobago need to have three players from either sex in the competition to be eligible to participate in the team competition. Now, suddenly, they have a men’s team.

“I intimated to you from the beginning that we were looking for [the chance to compete in the team event],” Joseph told Wired868. “So now we have a men’s team and Rheann will still play in the mixed doubles and the singles event.

“I would say the TTOC came to our rescue. It is a win-win situation!”

The TTTTA 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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago rising star Aaron Wilson was selected to represent his country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The TTTTA 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).

Wired868 was reliably informed that two withdrawals from Trinidad and Tobago’s track and field team—“within the last week or so”—created a chance for the TTOC to make an unexpected offer to the TTTTA and, in particular, the four talented players.

“The TTOC’s motivation is about being athlete-centred and we felt there was an opportunity to act in good faith, without being in contempt of court,” said Lewis. “It is important to be well-advised and we are always well-advised through our senior counsel and our legal team, Elton Prescott and Dave Williams.”

Still, the TTOC’s late intervention provoked mixed feelings from iconic local table tennis player St Louis.

Three days ago, the TTTTA failed in their efforts to have Donaldson-Honeywell’s injunction lifted in the Court of Appeal, thus preventing them from registering players or making any decisions whatsoever as regards the Commonwealth Games.

But St Louis wondered aloud whether the TTOC would have bothered to help him and his step-daughter, Chung, had the Joseph-led NSO succeeded in the Appeal Court.

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

“Today the Olympic Committee came and got involved but why this morning?” asked St Louis. “If the injunction had been lifted by the Court of Appeal, they would never have been [in the High Court] to award four places. And then they come and say they are for the athletes…”

Gayle also expressed disappointment that the TTOC had not acted sooner. St Louis and Chung first requested mediation from the Olympic Committee on 6 December, 2017. However, Lewis noted that, although the TTOC believed arbitration was the best course of action, its charter only gave administrations—and not athletes—the right to request use of that mechanism.

“We had been appealing to the TTOC for months now,” said Gayle. “If the TTOC could have taken this conciliatory approach to this, why has it taken three months and the risk of sending no one to the game for them to sort it out?”

Lewis defended the TTOC’s role in the legal impasse and insisted that the body’s decisions were always made with full consideration for the relevant by-laws.

“Our [initial] expectation was the matter would have been completed before the deadline,” said Lewis. “At the end of the day, all concerned didn’t want sport and, in this case, table tennis to be the loser. And the athletes would have been the ones to suffer if the deadline wasn’t met.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago international table tennis player Yuvraaj Dookram poses with some silverware.

“The TTOC acted in accordance with legal advice from senior counsel Elton Prescott and attorney Dave Williams. And we respected the right of both parties and the Court to examine the process [of the TTTTA’s initial selection].”

As much as the local table tennis fraternity would be relieved to have strong representation at the Commonwealth Games, the stand-off has affected the players’ preparation. Wilson and Dookram, who are 20 and 28 respectively, had planned to hold training camps abroad—but, amid the uncertainty, they did not follow through.

St Louis, 49, and Chung, 32, are still in season with their respective clubs in France but, as the veteran player and two-time Olympian pointed out, there is a marked difference between preparing for a weekend club fixture and a 10-day elite international competition.

There is the matter too of a potential loss of earnings since the pair are mandated to give 60 days notice before absence from competition.

“Athletes are treated like vagrants in Trinidad and Tobago and Richard Thompson is totally right about that,” said St Louis. “We need a globally accepted [selection] process that is fair for everybody and that does not exist from top to bottom. We only get nice words about ‘good governance’ and so on.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender and Rondel Sorrillo watch the electronic scoreboard after their disqualification from the 4×100 metre event during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“I have my contract with my club, which says I am supposed to give 60 days’ notice before international competition, plus a schedule of all games we intend to play for our country at the beginning of the season.

“I told them after the 14th of November [2017] that it doesn’t seem I will be selected. So for me and Rheann, this is a big loss of earnings for us… But we will make a claim for that money in our lawsuit with the Table Tennis Association.”

The claims against the TTTTA, filed by the legal team for St Louis and Chung on 20 December 2017, are:

“Damages for breach of contract and/or breach of duty; damages for conspiracy and/or unlawful interference; aggravated and/or exemplary damages; interest; costs; [and] such further or other relief as the Court deems just.”

Joseph told Wired868 that he half-expected St Louis and Chung to drop the matter.

“They claimed we were debarring them [from playing at the Commonwealth Games] and now they are actually going,” said Joseph. “So I don’t know [if they will continue the case].”

Crowne and Gayle confirmed that they have no intention of walking away from this matter.

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

“We stand by our case which is that there were significant procedural improprieties with regards to selection [of the TTTTA’s Commonwealth Games team],” said Gayle. “That has not gone away but, in terms of the injunctive relief, it is not in the interest of the sport for no one to go.”

Donaldson-Honeywell likened today’s outcome to ‘Solomon’s justice’—in reference to King Solomon of the Hebrew Bible. Each party felt its two players should go to the Games and, in the end, everyone gets to go.

The initial issue, St Louis and his attorneys stressed, still remains though.

“In an ideal world, we would prefer the matter to go to judicial determination or, as the Court of Appeal suggested, back to the [TTTTA’s] selection committee,” said Gayle. “But the problem with that is we would say the selectors are tainted and those issues that caused the injustice in the first place still remain. It would take more time to straighten out those problems and there wasn’t time for that.

“[…] It is unfortunate that this matter had to go all the way to the Court of Appeal but it is clear, based on the things we have heard in our court appearances, that the process was not right.

“There is a temporary remedy in place but the case goes on and Dexter and Rheann are adamant about making a difference and helping to clean up their sport.”

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 five members of the TTTTA’s selection committee are Edwards [A], Spicer, North Zone president Merle Baggoo, East Zone secretary Dave Williams and South Zone president Vasdev Bob Roopnarine.

Wired868 was informed, on condition of anonymity, that the TTTTA offered to replace Wilson and Dookram with St Louis and Chung this morning. The proposal never made it to the France-based players for consideration, though, as the TTOC’s legal team showed up soon after with an improved deal.

The TTTTA’s offer—which hinged on St Louis and Chung agreeing to drop their claim for legal damages or costs—might have potentially muddied the water further since, according to a source, the table tennis body lacked the power to make or honour such a promise. It could also have opened up Joseph and company to legal action from Wilson and Dookram and, allegedly, provided further evidence of the TTTTA’s slapdash approach to selection.

However, a source close to the table tennis body said the late offer—described as an “olive branch”—reflected only Joseph’s altruistic spirit.

“Mr Joseph and the Association always felt it was in the interest of sport to send players to the games,” said the source. “We never wanted no one to go.”

The late intervention from Lewis and the TTOC’s legal team made the offer a moot point.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA) president Ian Joseph displays a cheque from sponsor, Solo.

Joseph, who only returned from the CAC Games qualifier in Cuba at 2am today, was buoyed by not only the TTOC’s intercession but also Dookram’s fine recent form, which helped booked the two-island republic’s table tennis squad a spot at the July CAC competition in Colombia.

The TTTTA president will join all four players in Australia as the head of delegation.

“Dexter, Rheann and myself have had a good relationship for years,” said Joseph. “We all make mistakes but, as president, I will not harbour any animosity and, if they feel the same, we can meet halfway.  As far as the selection process goes, even with the best policy, there will always be little grey areas that we can tighten up on.

“So we will look at that.”

St Louis promised to give his all for the “Red, White and Black,” although he gave a cagey response on his relationship with the TTTTA’s administrators.

“I have no problem with Aaron Wilson and Yuvraaj Dookram and I never have a problem with any players,” said St Louis. “In fact, I am one of the most liked players in France because I am a very straightforward person. It is only in Trinidad that I have problems because I speak out about corruption and nepotism and so on.

Photo: Iconic table tennis player Dexter St Louis (left) acknowledges the vanquished Arun Roopnarine during the 2016 Solo National Championships at the Central Regional Indoor Sports Arena in Saith Park, Chaguanas.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“I am willing to go and play and try my best but this situation could have been avoided and should have been avoided. My belief is that NSOs cannot handle their own affairs because they are totally incompetent. Imagine Aleena is saying that I wasn’t considered for selection because I didn’t send in my passport and shoe size.

“[…] But I am willing to work and, under whatever conditions, we will put our best foot forward to represent Trinidad and Tobago. But, believe me, this is not the best situation.”

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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44 comments

  1. It’s embarrassing that the TTTTA said age was a factor. Kim Collins at 42 was in the Semi Finals of the 60M at the Indoor Track and Field Championships and our younger athletes did not make it. It’s all about the best performing athletes and St Louis and Chung are the best performing athletes at this time. They are also playing competitive tennis with their clubs.

  2. If there’s a justifiable case, then don’t be afraid to let everyone know why you didn’t select an athlete. It should be transparent.

    • It was made manifestly transparent why St. Louis and Chung were not selected. To suggest a lack of transparency is to either have not followed the case or not understood the dispute.

    • I’m guessing Yolanda Elizabeth Morean means by going to arbitration Nigel. If the TTTTA is so confident, then why did they not just agree to that and be done with it?

    • Lasana arbitration is notoriously unpredictable, unlike a court proceeding which is at least bound by the precedential cases that came before. I don’t know that this is the precise reason, but it’s why I find it a disfavored process.

    • Well, I think Dexter and Rheann are doing much better than the TTTTA from all the court pronouncements so far. That has to say something.

    • Admittedly I don’t have access to all the information, but remember it was the TTTTA who was really placed under duress by the lower court’s ruling. Not only was the deadline bearing down, but the NSO was also faced with the possibility of having to bear all litigation costs in the matter. I think St. Louis (can’t speak for Chung) has demonstrated that he was prepared to burn the house down around him if he didn’t get a place on the team, so he had nothing to lose.

    • The threat of paying all litigation costs is still there for TTTTA. And the stakes continue to rise too…

    • I don’t think the threat is still there:

      “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.”

      Unless the threat is for having declined to go to arbitration from the inception, I interpret it as a being made should the TTTTA fail to settle and/or arbitrate. I’d need to see the language of the Order itself though.

    • Nigel the wasted costs order is out. But the suit for damages and legal costs is still alive. Both sets of lawyers said as much as well as TTOC.

    • Oh that much I know… St. Louis made that clear as did Crowne. Not sure that keeps alive or carries anew, a threat of all litigation costs though, but we’ll see.

  3. It’s about fairness. You cannot dump a performing athlete without a justifiable reason. For too long sports administrators have been accountable to no one!

  4. Steups. If he, as he claims, told his club in November that it doesn’t look like he will be selected for the Commonwealth Games then why did he and Ms Chung risk their earnings to come here to fight with the Association. SMH. This guy is a table tennis icon in this country, why jeopardize the chances of the younger players going to the Games? Wow.

    • My friend. When one has a professional contract you must be sure on the club reclaiming documents that you are 100% sure that you are going to a international tournament this is for insurance purposes e.g (injury)I always knew I was taking them to court but no one knows the out. Come of a court case so I couldn’t full out the papers. I am not Nostradamus who predicted the future in 1700’s and second I am not an icon I am a peasant of the sport of table tennis a passionate and a student. Keep does heroic praises for does who suffer from self awareness

    • There is much more off course you are clueless. Did you like what happened to Thema Wlliams to continue?

    • Jeromaine Lalman St Louis of course I’m clueless. Again, DSL is an icon, hands down the best ever player in TTO. The Pele of Trinidad and Tobago table tennis. Been to the Olympics too. So give the younger ones a chance.

      • This is not about going to the commonwealth games it is about a system of biasness and nepotism !! Bhawanie wired 8686 is the parliament for sports when you coming here make sure you have some facts, you cannot come here and just pelt kick at your own testicules any how you say you clueless

    • Sheldon Bhawanie you clearly are clueless. This is more than about Commonwealth Games . This issue that you are unaware of has started in 2013 which I will not get into. We are trying to fight/challenge a broken system here where nepotism and biasness is omnipresent in the association. Moreover I will say this, I am fed up seeing people saying “give the youths a chance” . Now listen I agree with that but there are tournaments for that in table tennis( , opens, junior circuits regional tournaments….) . Not in a games sorry. Games are for medal potential or who could reach the furthest, not for exposure of the youths.The judge in the high court and the 3 judges in the court of appeal could clearly see injustice.
      We did not think we would be going to the Commonwealth Games upto yesterday morning before the court hearing as the TTOC came in at the 11th hour and offered 2 more spots. I hope you have a better idea.

    • Sheldon Barwanie m go and tell the high court judge that and thé three judges of the court of appeal Who all ruled injustice in Dexter and Rheann’s favour. It aint over yet! Ah Wonder if you in Badminton?

    • Wait we are comparing this to Thema’s situation

    • Nigel the Court of Appeal and High Court said it was an unjust process which is why they put in and/or kept the injunction. It is just that the court said it cannot compel TTTTA to take arbitration.

    • Oh ok…these situations are terribly unnecessary and wouldnt happen if associations had strict guidelines for selection and adhere to them to the letter.

    • Nigel therein lies the problem. All should observe the guidelines strictly. Maybe the TTTA needs to spend some time on policy development and guidelines. Then they can be shielded from claims of nepotism etc. which sadly seeps in to all sport here. As for Ms Chung’s response above I hope she can potentially medal and reach her furthest and the same for DSL. Otherwise, what are we really doing, where are we really going in this sport?

  5. After all the filibustering between the two parties, I am really HAPPY that this imbroglio is over…
    Thanks TTOC…
    DEXTER, carry the T&T FLAG all the way..I am sure Wilson and Dookram will give 100% …

  6. This surely sets a precedent for athletes. If left off a team they can now go to court and ask the TTOC to intervene.

  7. I am now left to wonder why didn’t TTOC similarly intervene in the case of the gymnast to the Olympics.

    • You’re not alone left wondering either. And the stakes were significantly higher then as well. Like it easier to stick yuh neck out fuh ping-pong than fuh de flips?

    • The gymnastics federation waited for the absolute deadline and then made the move. It left TTOC to choose between Marisa Dick or nobody.
      Interestingly, the High Court and Court of Appeal essentially said in this case that it would have been nobody. Because they were not willing to let Wilson and Dookram enjoy the fruits of a flawed process—even through no fault of theirs.
      Interesting eh Nicole Philip Greene.

    • Two track and field athletes are not going to the Games so TTOC used those spaces?

    • Indeed. Lasana, one thing though.

      I’m not quite clear on how the TTOC managed to appear in court.

      Lewis says the TTOC could not facilitate arbitration before because the TTOC charter only allows for administrators to request same, and in this instance it was the players making the request.

      Is it that the TTTTA finally requested TTOC assistance? Did the court request their presence? What enabled the TTOC to bypass their charter?

    • Nicole, Lewis pointed out that the TTOC has sole selection powers in this Games. So therefore it is their spot to give to whoever.
      It is a bit of a head scratcher. If so, should St Louis and Chung also have sued the TTOC?
      I suspect there are a few constitutions in need of tightening.

    • Lasana Liburd I suspect so also. In one case the tail wagging the head and in the other case the head wagging the tail. In the case of the gymnastics, could the TTOC have refused to send a representative to the Olympics.

    • Reynold yes they could have. That was the only option the TTOC had. Marisa or no one.
      Marisa was allowed to benefit from a flawed process. But from the TTOC’s side, it was “safer” to just send her as Marisa could have sued. Although she would probably have lost.

    • Lasana if that is the case, does it follow that they could have indeed facilitated mediation earlier in the process?

      Of course this avenue for resolution did not present itself until recently, but still, it seems to follow that the TTOC could have stepped in earlier?

    • Well, the TTOC did say that it was open to arbitration. And the TTTTA kept saying there was no need since they did nothing wrong. And that was that.
      Emir Crowne pointed out that the TTOC’s constitution is too heavily biased towards sporting bodies and doesn’t offer much to athletes. That’s part of it.
      Personally, I think mediation would have helped. My belief is this is not a case where the sporting body wanted one athlete to go, come hell or high water, like with Marisa Dick.
      I think the TTTTA acted without proper understanding of the legal consequences of what they were doing. And somehow it only seemed to get worse when they hired lawyers rather than better.
      If the TTOC spoke to them early, my guess is it would have helped. But the TTOC wasn’t obligated to and didn’t.

    • Lasana thanks. ?

      The reason I asked is because I wonder how much grey area still exists that allows NSOs to manipulate the neutral space where NSO and athlete should be on equal footing. And also what room TTOC has to protect its integrity – part of that will certainly be precedents and consistency.

      I find it troubling from an athlete’s perspective honestly that the TTOC seems to have been able to take some action earlier but chose not to, although I am quite sure there is some context I’m missing.