This week, I continue examining the bogus organisation of sport in our country illustrated by the fate of gymnast Thema Williams, my pro bono client in the High Court, whom the Court declared had been a victim of bias.
I now describe the specific event, which took place shortly after Thema won her vindication, by means of which the Government nevertheless rubbed salt in the wound.
The Court’s decision was given on 26 November 2018 and was widely and dramatically reported in the media and was also followed by a television interview with Thema. Other than persons in the deep sleep of slackness, it was impossible to miss the Court’s condemnation of the Gymnastics Federation.
The decision applied some balm to a national wound, most keenly felt in certain communities, which held the perception that Thema was betrayed because her rival was ‘fairer’ and better connected.
But a newspaper report appeared, on Sunday 2 December. It reported that two days after the Court’s decision, Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Shamfa Cudjoe, presented cheques totalling TT$899,736.65 to fifteen sporting bodies—one being the Gymnastics Federation which had treated Thema with bias.
Big picture and ting, and plenty grinning. The report stated that the presentation had been made ‘on Wednesday’. That presentation was therefore made despite the decision of the Court given two days before. How slack is that?
The Gymnastics Federation, which hurt Thema and angered the country, received a subvention from the Government regardless of its established bias—allegedly to cover operational and administration expenses.
Does that include trips for the officials? Will the disgraced Gymnastics Federation get more subventions while it ignores its debt to Thema?
The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) is a bit of a saga boy institution. It has publicly claimed that it has powers of intervention in disputes but it looked the other way when Thema was made a victim of bias.
It yielded impotently to the Gymnastics Federation clique and reportedly never even contacted Thema to examine, what, if anything, was wrong about the highly controversial decision to withdraw her from the Olympic Test Event.
Hear this mamaguy attributed to the Minister on the occasion of the presentation of the cheques: “The Government is making a concerted effort to ensure the necessary financial support which will be used to further develop the country’s athletes.”
The Ministry reportedly urged the sporting bodies to be guided by: “the Ministry’s values of integrity, democracy and accountability and to submit their financials in a timely manner in order to ensure compliance in keeping with the Government’s guidelines on accessing funding.”
Are these professed values practiced when the Minister knew or should have known that she was paying taxpayers’ money to the shamed Gymnastics Federation? Why did she overlook the Court’s finding of ‘entrenched biases’ on the part of the Gymnastics Federation? Thema is an aspiring young woman like her.
The cheque was drawn by the state enterprise, Sport Company of TT. Did that Company’s top executive official not know all about Thema’s problems with the Gymnastics Federation?
When asked whether the Government would pay Thema’s damages, the Minister took the position that Thema’s case was a ‘private matter’. How could Thema be discriminated against ‘privately’ by officials whose expenses are covered by taxpayers’ money carelessly dispensed?
For decades, waste, bacchanal, litigation and the dominance of cliques, have been mostly everywhere you look in sporting bodies.
Since Thema’s case was decided, there have been disputes in lawn tennis and table tennis, and the football body has two big judgments for wrongful dismissal to satisfy, having been rebuked by the Court for faulty management practices.
If the Government is genuine in its protestations that it is guided by principles of integrity and accountability, and if it does not want to pay Thema’s damages, then it is morally obliged to stop funding the disgraced Gymnastics Federation until it takes steps to settle its debt.
Meanwhile it is an affront to expect the private sector to invest more money in sport given its persistently discredited managements and their apparent lack of meaning what they say.