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Dear Editor: My daughter deserves spot at Carifta games after ‘devastating infringement’

“[…] I assumed that an exception would have been made for Kayleigh. Apart from the devastating infringement that cost her the race on Saturday, she is the national champion at that distance and over the last year, she had run faster times than any under-17 or under-20 athlete in the country.

“[…] I intend to advocate for my daughter and seek an explanation from the NAAA as to why her performance at the national champs is not being considered.”

The following Letter to the Editor was sent to Wired868 by Rose-Marie Forde, whose daughter lost her chance at a spot at the 2020 Carifta Games after being injured when pushed by another athlete during a qualifying race:

Photo: Kayleigh Forde
(Copyright Dennis Allen @ttgameplan)

By the time this letter is published, the official postponement of the 2020 Carifta Games will have already been announced. Although her plight has already been aired on the TV6 program Half Time Show, I would be remiss, as the parent of a talented, dedicated middle-distance runner, if I did not continue to highlight the grave injustice that was done to my daughter at the recently concluded Carifta trials.

My name is Rose-Marie Forde and my daughter Kayleigh is a 14-year-old student of St Joseph’s Convent POS. Over the last couple of years, she has made a name for herself as a runner at the middle distances of 800m and 1500m.

This year, she was poised to participate at the Carifta trials and achieve the 5:10 standard required for the 1500m at the under-17 level. The 800m, while not her stronger event, was also within reach since the Carifta standard was lowered from last year’s 2:20 to 2:22. Kayleigh had previously run a best time of 2:26.

On the Saturday of the trials, Kayleigh was well prepared to run her best time. She started the race by getting out in front and ran the first 300 meters in the required time. Then disaster struck.

As she and her teammate were rounding the curve together after the first pass of the finish line, the lone under-20 athlete in the under-17 race barged through the two frontrunners, pushing them both to the side to make her way to the front.

While Kayleigh stumbled to regain her balance after hitting the metal track rail, she hurt her ankle. Though she soldiered on bravely for another 300 meters or so, she was forced to exit the race and returned to the stands in tears.

Back with the team, her coach said she would have another opportunity to make the qualifying time at Falcon Games. But given that the actual Carifta games had been scheduled for 10 April, it did not seem practical that they would qualify athletes days before the event. The National Secondary School champs would be her best shot at qualification.

We went home, iced her ankle, and visited her physiotherapist who confirmed that she had suffered a strained Achilles. Unable to run the following day to try out for the 800m, we focused on applying the required physiotherapy and hoped she would be fit enough to compete at the National Secondary Schools Championships carded for the following Wednesday and Thursday at the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Tobago.

At that meet, she had only been selected to run the 800m race. Due to a mix-up at the zonal competition a few weeks earlier, she had just missed the call time of the 1500m race. That race did not take place as there were only two entrants. But she was listed as a reserve for the 1500m.

At the meet in Tobago, Kayleigh ran the race of her life! She got out hard from the start, followed her race plan and surged to the finish in an unbelievable time of 5:08:34, well below the required time of 5:10 and at least 20 seconds faster than her closest competitor. In the process, she smashed the meet record (5:13) held for 15 years by Samantha Shukla.

Photo: Kayleigh Forde at the 2019 NAAATT Cross Country Championships on 24 November 2019 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Copright Dennis Allen @ttgameplan)

I should mention at this point that a clip of the race in which Kayleigh had been pushed was shared on social media by Tony Hatt, a successful middle-distance coach based in Canada. He questioned why the offending athlete was not disqualified, given that the infringement happened in plain view of the track stewards.

His post came to the attention of TV6’s Serjio Du Four who reached out to me early the morning of the Tobago race to ask how my family and I felt about the incident at the trials that caused my daughter to miss out on a Carifta spot. I excitedly replied that she had just run 5:08:34 at nationals and since we hoped that her time here would be considered, we were happy to put the unfortunate incident behind us.

It was then that he explained that he understood that event didn’t count as a qualifier by the National Association of Athletics Administrations of Trinidad & Tobago (NAAATT). My response to him at that time was that even if it was not an official qualifier, I assumed that an exception would have been made for Kayleigh.

Apart from the devastating infringement that cost her the race on Saturday, she is the national champion at that distance and over the last year, she had run faster times than any under-17 or under-20 athlete in the country.

What followed then was a series of back and forth messages in which Serjio told me he reached out to both the Trinidad & Tobago Secondary Schools’ Track & Field Association (TTSSTFA) and the NAAATT, and they both agreed the meet was not a sanctioned one. The reason given was that the meet took place after the trials, and although in the past it was considered, this year it was not.

Photo: Kayleigh Forde.
(Copyright Dennis Allen @ttgameplan)

The team had already been named and Kayleigh could not be added because even though she made the time, the NAAATT did not recognise it. By the time the TV6 report aired, there had been no resolution and Serjio ended by saying that Kayleigh had missed out on the spot and that her parents have vowed to follow up on the matter. There was no mention of Falcon Games being used as another possible opportunity to qualify.

I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that the NAAATT have declined to select my daughter for the Carifta team. This is a young, talented and academically-gifted athlete, who, given the right coaching and development, could easily become the next Trinidad and Tobago middle-distance star. She possesses an amazing drive and admirable work ethic that is transferred easily from the track to the classroom.

Two thousand and nineteen was a particularly successful year for her, as she was unbeaten at these distances at all major meets. Her best times at the 1500m and 800m distances were 5:18 and 2:26. In January, she was also named the Best Under-15 Female Track Athlete of 2019.

The week after she had been awarded the NAAATT national award for under-15 girls, she was at St Joseph’s Convent prize-giving ceremony where she received the top academic award for her class. She also made the Principal’s List for being an all-round student that exemplifies the school spirit.

Photo: Kayleigh Forde wins 2019 NAAATT award for best under-15 female track athlete. (Copyright Dennis Allen @ttgameplan)

Back in primary school she had been awarded the valedictorian award for best academic and all-round student and had been a top 200 SEA winner. This should be the kind of student-athlete that the association should be happy and proud to support because she exemplifies all that is possible when school and sports blend perfectly.

I intend to advocate for my daughter and seek an explanation from the NAAATT as to why her performance at the national champs is not being considered.

I spent some time looking at the list of athletes named for the team and could not help but notice that quite a few did not meet the required standards. Some were close, and some were not so close.

According to the guidelines for selection of Carifta athletes, I believe that there may be more than one justification, based on the selection criteria, for which she could have been chosen. The guidelines read:

i) Athletes shall be selected on the basis of their performance at the Carifta Trials in keeping with the guidelines/standards set by the Executive.

ii) Automatic Qualification: (a) The top two finishers at the Carifta Trials, provided that they have achieved the necessary qualifying standard within the qualifying window for the event; and (b) In the case of the multi-events, the top three (3) athletes who have attained the qualifying standard.

Photo: Kayleigh Forde.
(Copyright Dennis Allen@ttgameplan)

iii) If there is only one automatic qualifier, the additional spot will be determined in the following order: (a) Athletes who attained the qualifying standard within the qualifying period for their event may be included in the eligibility pool for consideration by the Selection Committee and the Executive and (b) The Executive may consider other athletes who may benefit from participating at the competition.

For this reason, I intend to contact the general secretary to understand these guidelines and to allow the NAAA to clarify the rationale behind their decision.

In particular, I would like to have clarified what is ‘the qualifying window for the event’ as it relates to the 1500m.

I would also pose the question as to why, given my daughter’s obvious talent and the fact that she had bettered the qualifying time a mere four days after the trials, could she not be considered under clause iii) (b): The Executive may consider other athletes who may benefit from participating at the competition.

Editor’s Note: A NAAA official confirmed that there was no protest lodged on behalf of Kayleigh Forde by her club. However, the NAAA is willing to make an exception and would consider including the talented athlete on Trinidad and Tobago’s Carifta team—once the event is rescheduled.

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