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Bertrand: T&T must tackle incompetence and indifference and press TTOC and NAAA into action

“Not getting past the preliminary round is not catastrophic in itself but this is compounded by the times returned in the various events—times expected from age-group athletes.

“[…] It seems to me that the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) and the National Association of Amateur Athletic Associations (NAAA) both have many far more general questions that they must ask because of their implications for future participation on national teams.”

The following Letter to the Editor on the state of local track and field was submitted to Wired868 by two-time former Olympian and track coach, Dr Cliff Bertrand:

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Machel Cedenio (second from left) competes in the Men’s 4x400m relay final during the 2018 Commonwealth Games on 14 April 2018.
(Copyright William West/AFP 2018/Wired868)

Track and field in Trinidad and Tobago continues to be a cause for concern as it stumbles along in the darkness of seeming incompetence and indifference. The Commonwealth Games provided us with a number of bitter-sweet reminders of this state of affairs.

The very selection of the athletes caused us to question the competence of the selectors and raised questions about the availability of some of our athletes. It appears that it’s difficult for some athletes to make the team and even more difficult for them to be removed when selected—regardless of performance!

This information must be brought to the fore because these occurrences create pockets of concern about our programme—if programme there is—for the development of athletics.

An air of uncertainty hangs over the initial selection of Kelly-Ann Baptiste followed by her subsequent withdrawal and replacement by Khalifa St Fort, who had not been initially selected. It may be mere coincidence but it has to be noted that much of this occurred only after social media protestations by Ato Boldon.

Our relay performances were way below par; we were simply outclassed.

Photo: Veteran Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Emmanuel Callender (left) offers a consoling arm to teammate Nathan Farinha after their 4x100m relay disqualification at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Not getting past the preliminary round is not catastrophic in itself but this is compounded by the times returned in the various events—times expected from age-group athletes. Yet these are times being returned by athletes who were selected on the national team.

What is the explanation for Michelle-Lee Ahye’s non-participation in the relay? Was she coerced into taking the position she took? Was she acting independently or was she merely executing someone else’s wishes?

Was this an opportunity lost for T&T, Ahye and the 4×100 relay team to win another medal, possibly even gold?

Of course, we can ask whether, given all of the above, Ahye made the best decision. We can ask whether she ever contemplated the repercussions of her action. Did she realise the possible long-term effects of the message that was transmitted to others who may wish to follow in her footsteps?

But it seems to me that the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) and the National Association of Amateur Athletic Associations (NAAA) both have many far more general questions that they must ask because of their implications for future participation on national teams.

Photo: Michelle-Lee Ahye celebrates with the Trinidad and Tobago flag after her women’s 100m final triumph during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on 9 April 2018.
(Copyright Saeed Khan/AFP 2018/Wired868)

It seems to me that we have lost the grand statesmen and women that we once had and so ways must be found to remedy this situation. And it seems to me that there is a real need for an independent investigation—leading hopefully to identification and elucidation of the causes of the issues.

How important is it to today’s athletes to represent Trinidad and Tobago? Is there still any personal pride in doing so?

TTOC President Brian Lewis has declined to condemn or even to criticise the 2018 Commonwealth Games 100-metre sprint queen. In fact, he has praised her commitment and determination.

“I respect Ahye’s right to choose to accept her coach’s guidance,” Lewis told Wired868’s Lasana Liburd in a recent interview. “I’ve seen and read and heard about other speculation but I’m not into speculation.”

Is this a responsible position to adopt? Or is the TTOC President merely interested in his own agenda?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis.

“I had set a target of moving from eight gold medals at Commonwealth level to 10—the magic number for me,” he revealed in the same interview. “We achieved that.”

Would someone please tell me why Mr Lewis is setting targets for the number of medals to be achieved? He also set a target of 10 Olympic gold medals by 2024. Should the TTOC leader be setting personal goals for others to satisfy his cravings? Is this some kind of personal obsession?

Should the TTOC leader be responsible for determining what are reasonable expectations for the athletic fraternity and the public? And why are there no published reports on previous missions to big Games?

Perhaps Mr Liburd can put all of those questions to the TTOC leader the next time they speak…

NAAA President Ephraim Serrette, meanwhile, has refused to take a stand on the Ahye issue.

“I haven’t had any information from Australia,” he is reported as telling some media representative. “The last thing I know is that she said she wasn’t going to be running any relay.”

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago Sport Minister Darryl Smith (left) has a laugh with NAAA president Ephraim Serrette at the 2016 NAAA Open Championships at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain on 25 June 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

But is “I am not in Australia” really an acceptable and reasonable position for the NAAA’s President to take? Can Serrette reasonably refuse to take a stand when an athlete has blatantly refused to represent the country in an event at the Commonwealth Games?

Maybe the NAAA president is so busy shuffling the trip roster of his cabinet for 2019 when Qatar will host the IAAF World Championships that he cannot spare the time to determine whether national taxpayers got their money’s worth in Australia.

The same players will presumably be around. What will happen? Will Ahye compete? Will Boldon allow St Fort to compete? Will TTO be able to field a decent team in the Women’s 4×100 metres relay? Who knows?

We as a country are still waiting for a report on the 2016 Olympics when things did not exactly go swimmingly either, including in the relays.

But it seems we shall have to be content with the “report” that appeared in another Wired868 interview with Lewis, one highlight of which was the recurrent response, “I am not going to answer that question.”

Photo: A pensive Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Michelle-Lee Ahye has a close look at her 100 metre gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
(Copyright AFP 2018/Wired868)

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13 comments

  1. Lasana can you confirm that Richard Thompson has received his funding as of yet? I was also wondering if any of the athletes who were in the media concerning their funding, if the issue has been resolved? Just curious since we have heard nothing yet from him since this predicament.

  2. If a selected team goes abroad to represent our country and days before the event their coaches tell them not to participate what will happen then? Our tax money will just go down the drain.
    I don’t care if Ahye is on the other side she will have to answer to God for that on her own. She was selected to represent. Her coach to me has no say when she is with the T&T team. If so then there is no need for coaches going with the team.

  3. The TTOC and the NAAA have hard working volunteers and employees. Is questionning the competence and motives of the leaders make the entire staff bad. Similarly, if a Minister is in trouble, does it make the entire staff troublemakers? Using the names of (few) leaders synonymous with the name of the entire organisation seems to be a cultural thing that defines our people in a more negative light than progressive at times.

    “But in these challenging economic times when there is no elite funding assistance,” BL says no money for elite athletes in the Wired interview after athletes and leaders were vocal about a month ago to get assistance. Why put the country’s athletes through this embarrassment and then say they ‘are not pawns’ in the subsequent interview? ONe may ask are they pawns or not?

    ES spoke about airing issues on social media even though he was in the daily newspapers about many issues! Can anyone see the view that Ahye maybe did not run because no-one in authority asked her to or maybe informed her of the consequences?

    Is now the correct time to say that Ato has ‘underachieved’ (from below) because he still cannot come up with a slate to challenge the Presidencies of the Associations and win? Why is it so important for certain individuals to be loud for the cause of one and two rather than for the entire group? What is the plan?

  4. Lasana Liburd needs to have a sit down interview with the President of the NAAA just like he did with Brian Lewis. Until then we are and always will be in the dark.

  5. I again repeat, to improve performance, sports need proper administrators starting from Ministry, SporTT, TTOC; AT THE TOP.

  6. Shot across the bow or a diplomatic plead for change?