The Trinidad and Tobago men’s table tennis team looks set to miss this month’s Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in Colombia, after the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) received legal advice today that the local table tennis association failed to follow a ruling by its three member arbitration panel.
The advice proffered by attorney Dave Williams, who is a member of the TTOC’s legal team, is that the Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA) did not adhere to the directions of its arbitrators and constitution in re-selecting its four-member men’s team last night.
“In the circumstances, the fact that the TTTTA failed to abide by the terms of the Award,” stated Williams, in correspondence leaked to Wired868, “the names submitted to the TTOC by this Ad-Hoc Committee cannot be accepted since to do so the latter would be violating its own constitution and award.
“The TTOC is bound by the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal and cannot be seen either expressly or by implication to be in violation of same.”
The likely outcome will be a blow to coach Reeza Burke and the five players—Curtis Humphreys, Aaron Wilson, Yuvraaj Dookram, Arun Roopnarine and Dexter St Louis—who were contesting four available places.
Last month, TTTTA president Ian Joseph informed the TTOC that its selected men’s players for the CAC Games were: Humphreys, Wilson, Dookram and Roopnarine. However, St Louis, who turned 50 in March, challenged the decision and invoked the local Olympic Committee’s new arbitration clause—that, ironically, was added to the TTOC’s constitution after the table tennis body refused to use arbitration, earlier this year, in another legal tussle with the iconic France-based player, which ended up in the High Court.
On Monday, the TTOC’s arbitration panel—which comprises of J Tyrone Marcus (chair), Stefan Fabien and Christophe Brathwaite—ruled that, although there was no proof of bias by the table tennis body, the decision by its selection committee failed to follow its own guidelines and was “flawed” and should be “set aside.”
The TTTTA’s selection committee members were Joseph, general secretary Aleena Edwards, executive member Merle Baggoo, public relations officer Sherdon Pierre and east zone president Dave Williams—not the same Williams who represents the TTOC. Edwards was absent from the decision making process in this instance.
Joseph was directed to create a new selection committee with different members, which should re-select a team according to its stated internal guidelines. This selection process was to be completed by 4pm on Tuesday.
“Without making any finding of bias in respect of the first Selection Committee, the Panel finds that the [TTTTA] ran afoul of the principles of procedural fairness,” stated the Arbitration Panel. “For this reason and for the preservation of confidence and credibility in the selection process of the [TTTTA], the Panel, in its of ruling of 9 July 2018, directed that the decision of the Selection Committee who made the original decision be set aside and be remitted to a new Selection Committee, not comprising persons who made the original selection decision.”
The TTTTA missed the TTOC panel’s deadline by more than 24 hours, though, as its executive members refused to play along until the arbitrators answered their questions first.
“What was flawed—the decision not to include Dexter St Louis or the Selection criteria used?” asked the TTTTA, in a release issued by Pierre on Tuesday afternoon. “How come it was flawed for the men and not the women which we did the same process (sic), hence that team should (sic) be re-selected?
“How are we selecting the committee to select the players and how are they providing their decision to the panel?”
The arbitration panel, as promised on Monday, gave the reasoning for its ruling on Tuesday night. And, on Wednesday night, the TTTTA put a new ad-hoc selection committee in place.
“We complied [with the arbitration panel’s directives for a new selection committee] bearing in mind the difficulty of people wanting to come forward,” Joseph told Wired868. “[…] In the current climate, nobody wants to come forward to have their names dragging around in public…
“[Also] our fraternity is so small that it is hard to avoid any hint of bias.”
On Wednesday night, the local table tennis body held an emergency management meeting, which, according to Joseph, was duly constituted with three zones and 11 persons in attendance.
“We found four persons not conflicted in the initial case [to serve on an ad-hoc selection committee],” said Joseph. “They were Ray Fermin, who is our treasurer, second vice-president Verna Edwards, Central Zone president Dave Ramoutar and assistant secretary Sarita Maharaj, who essentially took the notes.”
The TTOC’s attorney, Williams, felt the composition of the TTTTA’s new selection committee was unconstitutional, though.
“According to the TTTTA’s constitution, the Selection Committee should comprise five persons namely, the President or Vice President, the General Secretary and three other members,” stated Williams. “The Ad-Hoc Committee constituted had three members. Accordingly, any decision made by this committee would be contrary to TTTTA’s Constitution and would therefore be null and void.”
On Wednesday night, the new selection committee came up with the same four names to represent the men’s team—as Joseph suggested they might in a TV6 interview on Tuesday night—and the table tennis president relayed that information to the TTOC and St Louis’ legal team of Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle and Sheriza Khan.
“At approximately 1:27am, I received a short, brief email just saying they looked at the selection policy and came up with the same team,” said Joseph. “[…] That information was forwarded to the TTOC and Dexter St Louis’ team of lawyers.”
Maharaj’s email on the TTTTA’s selection read as follows:
“The Committee was disadvantaged to (sic) find all the information required to make a final decision based on the Selection Policy, and did not have the time to do the research.
“In addition, all players selected would have met the criteria outlined in the Selection policy. The Ad hoc Committee trusts that the last Committee would have done the research to determine the composition of the team.
“On this basis the Ad hoc Committee agrees with the selection of Mr Curtis Humphreys, Mr Aaron Wilson, Mr Yuvraaj Dookram, Mr Arun Roopnarine to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Columbia from July 19-August 3, 2018.”
Williams advised TTOC president Brian Lewis and his executive that he was unimpressed by the reasoning of the TTTTA’s new selection committee.
“Via e-mail from Sarita Maharaj, purporting to be issued on behalf of the TTTTA,” said Williams, “it was stated that a committee comprising three persons endorsed the selection of the four players who were selected by the said selection committee, whose process the Tribunal deemed to be flawed.
“According to Ms Maharaj, this Ad-Hoc Committee ‘was disadvantaged to find all the information required to make a final decision based on the Selection Policy and did not have the time to do the research’.
“Clearly, Ms Maharaj on behalf of the TTTTA is saying that the Ad-Hoc Committee did not have all the necessary information to make an informed decision on the persons selected.
“In the circumstances, the process adopted by this Ad-Hoc Committee in ratifying the names of the earlier committee would not only have been contrary to the TTTTA’s Constitution, but also would be in breach of the Arbitral Tribunal’s Award of 9th July, 2018.”
Gayle, who is counsel for St Louis, has already advised that his client will consider seeking redress against the TTTTA in the High Court. And the local court has ruled for St Louis once already this year, after Madame Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell found that the veteran player and his 33 year old step-daughter Rheann Chung were unfairly omitted from Trinidad and Tobago’s Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games team.
A last gasp intervention by the TTOC president—after the withdrawal of two athletes in other disciplines—meant St Louis and Chung made it to the Gold Coast anyway, along with the TTTTA’s initial choices of Wilson and Dookram.
However, with just one week before CAC Games’ opening ceremony and the international deadline long gone, it is uncertain whether there is enough time for a happy ending on this occasion—even if the TTTTA was willing to make a third attempt at selecting its team.
Williams’ own position was pessimistic.
“It is unfortunate that a male team cannot be constituted to represent Trinidad and Tobago and the true losers in this regard are indeed the players,” stated Williams. “We however have to abide by the law and it is in keeping with the law that I so advise.
“In an earlier e-mail sent I suggested that the parties should meet in an effort to arrive at an acceptable position in the interest of the sport and the players. I reiterate this suggestion.”
Lewis said the TTOC’s executive committee will decide on its next step as soon as possible.
“We will consider the legal advice we have received [and it will] be discussed at the level of the TTOC executive,” Lewis told Wired868. “It will be premature at this point in time to say there has been a decision.”
Since the selection of the TTTTA women’s team of Chung, Brittany Joseph, Catherine Spicer, Linda Partap-Boodhan and coach Aleena Edwards was not challenged, they are still expected to participate in the CAC Games.
Even without the four male players and coach, Joseph may still travel to Colombia for the Games, since he was listed as team manager for the contingent.
The table tennis president traveled to Australia, earlier this year, as coach of the men’s team, despite his legal issues with St Louis—who informed the president, by letter, that he was not to come near to him.