A QRC lament: Of emails, elite athletes, prestige schools, prizes and unpleasant surprises

EPL Infrafred Sauna

Some of the Best people I know went, like me, to Queen’s Royal College: one brother, two sons and four nephews.

And a throng of people the media-conscious public knows best also went to QRC. Here is a non-exhaustive list of QRC people who tend to be in the media day after day as presenter and not as presentee: Jason “Jus Jase” Alleyne, Walter Alibey, Jelani Beckles, Peter Ray Blood, Hamid Ghany, Gyasi Gonzales, Michael Harris, Ashford Jackman, Shammi Kowlessar, Kwame Lawrence, Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba, Winston Maynard, Llewellyn “Shortpants” McIntosh, Gyasi Merrique, Mark Pouchet, Ian Prescott, Valentino Singh, Irving Ward, Oswald Warwick and Garth Wattley.

Without me, that makes a round 20. I think you can reasonably conclude that somebody on Maraval Road knows something about successful communication.

Photo: Royal 72 Champions skipper Afzal Mohammed (left) and QRC Principal David Simon display the challenge trophy and $5000 cheque  presented to the College at a function held at the Harvard Club on Saturday 18 November, 2017.

Another alum, 1960’s QRC goalkeeper Ruthven Thompson, is not actively in communication. And it shows. His son is three-time Olympic medallist for Trinidad and Tobago Richard “Torpedo” Thompson, also an alum. But frankly, I’d prefer if we could all forget that for a while. After Thompson Jr’s now very public—thanks to Thompson Jr—exchange with Shabbir Mohammed, an officer in the Ministry of Sports, my sense was that QRC people all over the world might well be more than a little embarrassed.

Surprisingly, however, not all of us were.

Properly, neither Alibey nor Beckles, reporters both, lets his opinion extrude. And you can’t really tell from the report that appears beneath Lawrence’s name in the Express of Monday 19 February just where the ace athletics reporter stands either. Much more eloquent is his subsequent silence. In that clearly rushed news piece, however, Lawrence does single out for special mention Mohammed’s awkwardly phrased and arguably ill-advised question, “Can an injured athlete who has no world ranking be elite?”

Wired868 Editor-in-Chief, Lasana Liburd, found the question offensive. And Andre E Baptiste, i95.5’s “most unfaired commentator in sport,” has already devoted more than one programme to the issue, leaving no doubt that he agrees with the disgruntled, “disrespected” sprinter’s stance.

That’s no surprise; both media men were schooled at the Other Place. Where communication is concerned, we no longer expect them to get too much right, do we? Not after Maxie Cuffie’s stint in the relevant ministry anyway.

But Wattley’s Wednesday 21 February Express column, headlined “No more lip service,” also seems to be sympathetic to the position espoused by the Beijing 100m silver medallist. To ask that question, Wattley opined, was to “flippantly dismiss” the ace sprinter and to deny him the “professional courtesy” he deserves.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson (right) tries unsuccessfully to hold off Jamaica legend Usain Bolt in the first round of the 100m event at the Rio Olympics on 13 August, 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It is a view shared by many commentators right here on Wired868, one of whom, FelixtheCat, lets all of his qrcness hang out although he never quite puts it into words.

“If you read his email you would understand what he has stated. But clearly you are not a QRC graduate so I do not expect you to!

“He isn’t asking for ‘special treatment’ because of who he is. He is merely making the point of the injustice that is done to the athletes and speaking out where others may be apprehensive to do for fear of victimization from the Ministry officials.”

I’m guessing he shared at least one communication teacher with the Olympic triple medallist; this is how he ends:

“So before casting aspersions about idiots supporting his ‘stupid childish tirade’, you are urged to brush up on your comprehension skills as clearly you’ve not read and understood the contents of Mr Thompson’s email…”

Those who deal in genuine communication know how all-important context is. But allow me to present, ripped out of their context, four extracts from the emails sent to Mr Thompson by Mohammed.

“Financial Statements for monies previously received and supported by bills are outstanding. Please do not hesitate to come in to review these documents and/or to ensure that the correct submissions are made by you and your representing bodies for the correct application to be processed for consideration.”

“It is important to note that you have been injured and recommended for assistance to compete. You were not recommended for funding for medical assistance as an injured athlete by your governing bodies for 2016 or 2017 (as per elite athlete assistance policy).”

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago quartet of Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callender, Marc Burns and Richard Thompson pose on the podium after crossing the line third in the London 2012 Olympics 4×100 relay final on 11 August, 2012.
The Trinidad and Tobago team were subsequently upgraded to silver and, later, to gold.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Johannes Eisele)

“Can an injured athlete who has no world ranking be elite? Nevertheless, any monies disbursed have to be accounted for before any other type of funding is disbursed (as per service level agreement).”

“I just want to do my job to start processing a completed application. Please ensure that the proper application is complete and submitted to your various associations for endorsement to be sent over to the Ministry.

“If you are dissatisfied with the information I have just provided, please let me know so that another officer may be assigned your case.”

What do you make of that? Is Mohammed a Ministry of Sport employee who is:

(A) disrespectful?

(B) insensitive?

(C) merely ensuring that all the cards are on the table?

(D) overstepping the bounds?

(E) rude?

Photo: (From left) Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago facility manager Anthony Blake, three-time Olympic medallist Richard “Torpedo” Thompson, Sport Minister Darryl Smith and then Public Utilities Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.

Well, if your answer is not (C), you’re apparently with the majority, including—surprise, surprise!—the Minister of Sport himself.

A media release last weekend announced a plan to provide “sensitivity training” for MoSYA employees who have to interface with the public.

And then gratuitously provided details about the TT$1.25m the Ministry has handed over to Mr Thompson between 2007 and 2015 as part of the Elite Athletes Assistance Programme!

Guess where the current Sport Minister got his secondary schooling. On Pembroke Street, of course!

Mr Thompson, however, was educated on Maraval Road and is a proud product of the original prestige school. Arguably too proud.

“…let me make it clear that prior to these chain of emails, I’ve never spoken to you, seen you, or was aware of your existence. So for you to address me in the manner of your last email was nothing short of disrespectful; in fact, it was the most disrespectful email I have ever read. What gives you the authority to address me or any athlete in the tone that you just did is beyond me.”

Let’s be clear: Mr Thompson is referring to, inter alia, the four bits of Mr Mohammed’s email you’ve just read, albeit without full context.

“If your response is reflective of the Ministry’s attitude to someone that is a three-time Olympic medallist and National awardee, I shudder to think of how my upcoming and lesser accoladed athletes are treated.”

I shudder to think of what might have been Mr Thompson’s response had he had the honour of bringing to Trinidad and Tobago what Hasely Crawford brought, the first gold medal. Or Ato Boldon’s four individual medals and a Worlds gold to boot! Would there have been any room in these two islands for all of us “lesser accoladed” citizens when he puffed his chest out?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s first Olympic gold medallist Hasely Crawford, 100m winner in 1976..
(Courtesy Caribbean Beat)

“For you to suggest that I am “not elite” because of an injury sustained representing T&T,” Mr Thompson adds a little later on, “is not only unreasonable, it shows your lack of knowledge for professional athletics.”

And, in the context of an email exchange that, according to Mr Thompson, has been “respectful and professional,” there is this additional bit of undisguised ad hominemism:

“…unfortunately, it seems that you or the Ministry do not possess the common sense to comprehend that uncomplicated fact.”

But is Mr Thompson content merely to unleash his gratuitous broadside on the Ministry official? No, sirree!

“It appears that as long as Darryl Smith is the Minister of Sport, athletes will continue to be treated with disdain…”

Please! I hold no brief for Mr Smith or for any other of PM Keith Rowley’s bunglers. But how can that sentence be justified in the context of an email exchange that, still according to Mr Thompson, is “respectful and professional”?

So what, my fellow Royalians, do we do now? My reaction is first to apologise to Mr Mohammed on behalf of all Royalians, including Wattley and FelixtheCat who, I submit, should have been embarrassed by Mr Thompson’s emails.

Then to recommend to Mr Thompson the wisdom for those in public life of the admonition that says, “When they go down, you go up.”

And finally to lament that the Royalian motto which tells us explicitly how to behave when we don’t win the prize does not also explicitly tell us what to do when we do…

…and then get an unpleasant surprise. After all, on Maraval Road, It’s winners that matter, not winning.

Photo: The Queen’s Royal College (QRC) stands proudly at both ends of the rainbow.
(Copyright Nigel Durrant)

Author’s footnote: Here is a list of three dozen other Royalian names you’re likely to find often in the media today and in yesteryear: Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, Zaheer Ali, Roger Bonair-Agard, Selby Brown, Kwan Browne, Gerry Brooks, Rudranath Capildeo, Darren Cowie, Sheldon Cyrus, Gordon Draper, Reginald Dumas, Colin Furlonge, CV Gocking, Gerry Gomez, Justin Guillen, Jackie Hinkson, Karl Hudson-Phillips, CLR James, Morgan Job, Ainsley Mark, Peter Minshall, Wendell Mottley, Deryck Murray, Vidia Naipaul, Rolston Nelson, Lincoln Phillips, Elton Prescott, Richard Purcell, Patrick Rabathaly, Max Richards, David Simon, Rodney Smart, Denis Solomon, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Bhoe Tewarie and Dr Eric Williams.

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About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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  1. Well said, Mr Best. Not everyone can think critically or impartially.

  2. Well said Kenrick Ramirez! Couldnt say it better!!

  3. Good Morning,

    I learn a lot from reading articles on here and then reading comments on how individuals interpret situations/words. I don’t comment because so many of one views are based on their experiences in life which is impossible for us to deduce of them being right or wrong as it’s an opinion.

    I’ll weigh in on this situation as having direct connections to most parties involved.

    Person in Ministry – In my opinion I don’t think the “intent” was to degrade Richard, I think it was someone going only on the paper information they had, so the relationship one should have in these highly tense situation wasn’t there, which the ministry shouldn’t of put that person in the situation dealing with an elite athlete/individuals who have been failed by the powers that may be over and over.

    Richard – experiences tend to lead us down a certain partway when dealing with situations, he took it as coming from an organization which has failed so many so often, his comment of “the way he was spoken to as someone with accolades” was geared more to history to some extent but primarily to support other athletes who might not get the time of day.

    Mr. Best – I believe he just took a different angle to a story that was spoken about a lot, communication was the theme but he introduce the pride, competition, banter of certain schools which he is that type of writer.

    QRC – Yes there is a level of strong belief in self/institution most of individuals that have attended the institution posses, the belief isn’t bad but sometimes the way it is translated / interpreted is and in this situation it has very little to do with topic at hand.

    *** my opinion

  4. Removed from the small pond context of Trinidad and Tobago… all of this QRC hagiography reads rather weird. That being said, I’m not sure what Best’s point is. It seems to be that as a QRC old-boy Thompson should have known better than to condescend to Mohammed. But isn’t that itself ironic that in condemning the ‘elitism’ of which he accuses Thompson, Best himself engages in the same?

    Is condescension the exclusive purview of those who did not attend QRC? Royalians too good to condescend? Leave that fuh de unwashed masses from de shift schools?

    Let it not be lost in all of this that this was an email, not a Letter to the Editor. It is hardly likely that this was written with publication in mind and as such Thompson was perfectly entitled to give as he got.

  5. “You can’t have it!” (Harsh). “You can’t have it..” (softly) are the sam two statements with different meaning. Intonation even when writing, has a large part to play in interpreting communication. Taken in context, the ministry official was smug and rude.
    I’m always enthralled when someone without any real experience in a field could make pronouncements like an expert. Not statements like it’s their point of view you know, but statements like they really understand the dynamics of a situation. And for the life of me I don’t know what being a public figure (in T and T) have to do with all this. Far less what “prestige” school persons attended. Thanks for the list though.

    • Really, expert?
      I know very little about communication but it’s enough to point out that if what you are essentially saying were true, there would be ABSOLUTELY NO NEED for your first two parentheses.

      Have a rare thoughtful day, sir.

  6. QRC and Trinity men are not like others. The Anglican background is not as submissive as say CIC and Fatima (RC). You push us, we shall push back.

  7. Well I’m from St Benedicts so if I’m out of place to even respond to this highly touted discussion ….I humbly and apologetically bow down and take my hat off ….. NOT!!! If this article was supposed to supercede all previously emotionally submitted evidence and become the purveyor of wisdom he’s failed ….miserably! The fact that he’s a QRC man so he should know better ….. by default ….because they were raised better than that (now I’ll have two teaspoons of sugar with my tetley tea now …uhh hmmm thank you) ….bullocks!!! The fact is mistakes were made on both sides in terms of addressing one another … it was initiated and essentially created by the ministry official and as a consequence Richard fired back (like any grown man who feels disrespected by another should). The fact that he has won titles for his country should not define the level of respect deserved in terms of addressing the man, in fact it should mean nothing if you apply a professional well researched response in doing your job. We are human if we feel disrespected we will respond accordingly and our response will not necessarily please the public eye but, if the choice is between satisfying “an adoring public” who demands excellence of you when it suits them as opposed to communicating your opinion on how you feel you are bring treated …. I’m taking the latter ….. all day and twice on ah Sunday …..

  8. Sherlan Cabralis

    Is it possible that the TTOC and NAAA may have made the wrong recommendation hence the statement and subsequent question… “It is important to note that you have been injured and recommended for assistance to COMPETE. You were not recommended for funding for MEDICAL ASSITANCE as an injured athlete by your governing bodies for 2016 or 2017 (as per elite athlete assistance policy).“Can an injured athlete who has no world ranking be elite?”

  9. Once our elite and professional athletes in good standing are hurt whether, during the off-season or the on-season, the NAAA is responsible for making that decision to approve or not to approve funding. Once the NAAA TT and especially the TTOC have approved the funding, the Ministry of Sport (MOS) is obligated to follow through. If the MOS has a problem then the MOS should be resolving the issue with the TTOC and the NAAA instead of responding with profound idiocy, ignorance. and arrogance as observed in the initial email from Mohammed to Thompson. Aren’t you all tired of our athletes being treated as slaves? Aren’t you concern that many of our Olympians prefer to stay far away from the powers that be? Aren’t concern that the powers that have blacklisted our athletes who dare to express concerns about issues that affect T&T’s overall performance? T&T Sports need leaders of compassion, understanding, ethics, and integrity, and of course, intimate knowledge of all sports that T&T athletes partake. Darryl Smith must be removed. He is inept.

  10. REALLY Mr. Best?! Well hell, I guess
    that many men will now “feel ahow” because they weren’t as fortunate to attend QRC! Pride is good,but you come of as quite condescending. And then we wonder about the behavior and approach by some! But I’m still waiting for you to indicate just HOW this situation could have been PREVENTED. I hold my original opinion, in this matter and support this athlete and by extension, all that are going through hell dealing with this MSYA. By the way, there are some on that list I have serious questions about starting with Mr M Job.

  11. Yeah… all I get from that Best article is …. I REEEAAAAAAALLLLL glad I didnt go QRC and time for COSTATT to close down if Best hold any sway in a communications department…. oh and on the Thompson thing (which I thought the op ed was about but some how got side tracked into well…. I am not quite sure) Best need to “sit down, rock back” on this one…. The Best forum for Best to discuss this would have been in QRC fete or the numerous functions QRC OLD Boys hold every year… he could have saved his “surprise” for something more relevant like… the doctor telling him he doesn’t have diabetes and he still living in Trinidad… or SOLO banana actually have no banana in it… or DOUBLES is a Starch not a protein…

  12. Lasana Liburd

    Well my own view remains that Richard Thompson was provoked into a reaction by the unprofessionalism and discourtesy of Shabbir Mohammed in questioning Thompson’s elite status and hinting that his entire application was a waste of time. And then by further offering to reassign him, as though he felt he was the Sport Minister or PS.
    I didn’t find it odd that Thompson included Darryl Smith in his reply as his interaction with Shabbir was a continuation of dialogue with Smith and his advisor Garvin Warwick.
    Did Thompson get his application wrong? Well, if he did, remember it was recommended by the NAAA and TTOC and appeared to have been verbally agreed to with Smith and Warwick too. So that indicates some confusion over the EAAP with a lot of people whose responsibility it is to know the ins and out of the thing. Perhaps Shabbir should have thought of that before his response to the athlete.

    • Sherlan Cabralis

      I would assume that Shabbir was dealing with the facts in front of him. The fact that both the NAAA and TTOC may have recommended an injured athlete for elite funding, when Richard was clearly injured. I doubt that Shabbir was privy to conversations between the Minister, Garvin and Richard. I hope when players are provoked to retaliate on the pitch we have the same view, Mr. Liburd.

      • Lasana Liburd

        Shabbir ought to have noted the recommendation from the NAAA and TTOC. Wasn’t that right in front of him too? Or did he think that Richard Thompson recommended himself for elite funding?
        Provocation is always considered, even in law. Not that it justifies any and every behaviour. But it is a consideration.

    • I am still trying to fathom, for all my admiration of him, how can anyone question a question of Mr. Thompson’s eliteness.

      The question while harsh is pertinent….

      And again i repeat i am 100% certain if a private interaction with a sporting body was leaked by an athlete to the press sanctions would be swift!

      • Lasana Liburd

        Nigel, my point is that Richard Thompson did not declare himself elite. It was the TTOC and NAAA who declared him to be an elite athlete. So if Shabbir has questions about his status then who should he raise it with?
        If he felt Thompson was not an elite athlete, he should have picked the phone up and called a representative from the NAAA or TTOC to address this. Anything else is lazy and unprofessional in my opinion.

  13. You did take forever to get there, Earl, but your point about where we learn what to do with the palmam is welcome. I read the exchange when it was published and thought I needed to be more of a sports cognoscente to get the offence. Thompson did come off as dramatically arrogant. I’m not sure if your moral was that Black boys at St. Mary’s learn humility, but there’s that too.

  14. All due respect to Earl Best but I am not sure what QRC has to do with the email Mr. Thompson sent and his subsequent responces.
    The key point here is that the governing bodies both the NAAA and the TTOC recommended the funding. They did their checks and balances and as someone familiar with the funding requirements, Mr. Thompson application and attached documents were complete and were more detailed than 50% of the athletes who are currently funded.
    His responce was based on frustration. I hold my initial view on this. Athletes are treated with scant regard, especially by this current Minister.

  15. Marcus Alexander Clarke the NAAA recommended that he get funding. They approved the request.

  16. I have one question where was the NAAA in this whole situation? Why have an association that remains quite throughout the whole situation?

  17. Brian Harry I largely agree with you on this one. I think that on sober reflection a reasonable person will get that he has received funding based entirely on his ability to reach elite status. But that funding is not a right it’s a privilege. As in any sport injury is a fact of life. I do not know that the government is responsible for the athletes recovery. Having said that I think Mr Best’ s analysis misses a key point. Ie the abusive process for accessing funding if indeed the athlete is elite. The requirements appear onerous and unnecessarily complex like so many things on this fair rock….

    • Where did he say that it’s a right tho? In Richard’s initial email he stated he was not even gonna request funding and only did so based on a convo with an official. I think people are missing the point here…and if you speak to individual athletes (As I have) you’d see that Richard’s case is more of the norm than the exception. And That is the problem..

  18. Ahhh. People will always have different views on just about every topic on earth. I think the point (most of us) should agree on though, is that we need to hold public officials accountable for their actions or lack thereof. Stopped reading this article midway through because it was just taking too long to get to the point. (No disrespect to the writer. Just my opinion). Athletes who represent our country should be treated fairly. They are not. Emails and words aside…I think that is the bigger issue which needs to be urgently addressed. Trinidadians love harping on the minor when the major continues to be swept under the rug.

  19. Kenneth H Ransome Jr

    Earl Best knows not what he is talking about…
    Richard Thompson’s response was on par, to the point, and effective. His emails addressed the callousness toward, disregard for, and contemptuousness these pompous officials in the Ministry of Sports embrace and display when dealing with our athletes, local and abroad.
    The Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs went low and Richard Thompson went high.
    Relentlessly, our athletes are abused and vilified by these ‘officials’ who enjoy blacklisting those athletes who stand up for their rights. This asinine ’emotionally amateurish’ unprofessional behavior of Darryl Smith and his cohorts must not be condoned and should be shunned. In fact, Darryl Smith and Mohammed should be terminated.

    • Earl Best

      KHR, Let’s be clear: I have never been an elite athlete and therefore I have no first-hand experience of the treatment meted out to same. I, however, have lived in T&T long enough to have no doubt that officials in the Ministry of Sport do on occasion display all the negative things you contend they display, to wit, “callousness toward, disregard for, and contemptuousness,” pomposity, abuse and vilification.

      But how is that the issue here?

      It seems to me the issue is whether one official, Shabbir Mohammed, can reasonably be deemed to have been any of those things on the basis of the email exchange to which we have been made privy. My categorical answer is no and I really would appreciate it if you would point me to the evidence on the basis of which you arrive at a different conclusion.

  20. Earl Best knows not what he is talking about…
    Richard Thompson’s response was on par, to the point, and effective. His emails addressed the callousness toward, disregard for, and contemptuousness these pompous officials in the Ministry of Sports embrace and display when dealing with our athletes, local and abroad.
    The Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs went low and Richard Thompson went high.
    Relentlessly, our athletes are abused and vilified by these ‘officials’ who enjoy blacklisting those athletes who stand up for their rights. This asinine ’emotionally amateurish’ unprofessional behavior of Darryl Smith and his cohorts must not be condoned and should be shunned. In fact, Darryl Smith and Mohammed should be terminated.

  21. CLR James, THE eminent Queen’s Royal scholar did not hold back, thus giving us the captaincy of Frank Worrell…Change is never a tea party.

  22. Cheups. Lol. Shabbir was unprofessional and out of place, even if Richard’s response was a bit extra.

  23. I still feel Shabbir was unprofessional and disrespectful. And I feel that Richard’s extreme reaction was based on years of frustration. So I hold to my point.
    Allyuh QRC men ent convince me yet. Lol

  24. Well im glad that it was said. Lasana I told you my view before and I didn’t see. It like the majority of folks who commented on you link, but I’m getting weary of these discussions

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