The Trinidad and Tobago men’s 3×3 basketball team has already booked its place at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, which starts on 28 July.
Whether they get to participate, though, will hinge on a significant thawing of relations between the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) and the National Basketball Federation of Trinidad and Tobago (NBFTT) now that the former body yesterday slapped the latter party with a six-month suspension for allegedly failing to abide by a ruling of the TTOC Arbitration Committee.
It is a disagreement that has nothing whatsoever to do with the young athletes.
On 12 May 2021, the TTOC tribunal, headed by Sonja Johnson, ruled that the Claire Mitchell-led NBFTT had failed to follow due process in its suspension of NBFTT board member Keith Clement and NBFTT vice-president (finance) Ikenna Joseph.
Clement and Joseph were accused by the NBFTT of bringing the local basketball body into disrepute by leaking confidential financial information to the media. However, rather than refer the duo to a disciplinary committee in line with its own constitution, the NBFTT’s Board members suspended the officials themselves after an emergency meeting on WhatsApp.
On behalf of the TTOC, Johnson declared that the NBFTT had infringed the principles of natural justice and ordered the administration to rescind the suspension.
On 14 July 2021, the NBFTT Board met to address the TTOC’s ruling and successfully moved two motions. The first ‘reversed its suspension decision and followed the recommendation of TTOC’.
However, the second motion requested ‘the immediate resignation’ of Clement and Joseph and ‘[struck] both names from the records and membership of the National Basketball Federation of Trinidad and Tobago, effective immediately’.
Effectively, the NBFTT Board members reversed its suspension and then, at the same meeting, upgraded the initial action by expelling Clement and Joseph without, for the second time, bothering to trouble its disciplinary committee.
The NBFTT Board comprises Lennox Sobers (vice-president organisation and development), Ishmael St Bryce (vice-president technical and training support), Rachel Dick (general secretary), Sharon Castanada (assistant secretary) and Mitchell.
Six months later, Mitchell, via a media release, suggested that she has no idea why the TTOC was sufficiently miffed to suspend the local basketball body for ‘non-compliance’.
“Despite the NBFTT complying fully with the recommendations of the Tribunal Hearing and officially informing the TTOC in writing, the NBFTT is hereby being accused of non-compliance and disrespect,” stated Mitchell’s release. “The NBFTT is uncertain about where it ignored the recommendations of TTOC and what due process TTOC has used to establish the facts of its non-compliance claim that warrants this suspension.
“[…] On 4 October 2021, TTOC sent a letter formally accusing the NBFTT of not following the recommendation of the Arbitration Committee and summoning the Federation to say why.
“While the letter admonished [the NBFTT] about the need for due process, there was no evidence that the TTOC took any time to establish whether the accusation in its letter was indeed factual.”
TTOC attorney Dave Williams was not amused.
“All I can say is [the NBFTT’s stance] is farcical and an affront to the principles of natural justice,” Williams told Wired868. “If the tribunal order is that the decision to suspend should be rescinded and a disciplinary hearing conducted, then the persons in question must be given a chance to be heard. You cannot rescind the suspension and then expel them in the same meeting!”
The TTOC suspension looks set to deny Trinidad and Tobago’s top basketballers the opportunity to participate at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England—despite their having already qualified for the tournament.
Although the Games’ 3×3 basketball competition starts in late July, Williams confirmed that the TTOC would need to ratify the team’s involvement prior to the event. This will not happen once the suspension stands.
If the athletes miss a chance to compete at the highest level, Mitchell suggested that the TTOC would need to look at itself. She said the basketball body has retained Keith Scotland of Veritus Chambers as its legal counsel.
“We are hopeful that clarity will be offered to the situation swiftly to avoid players being robbed of opportunities […] to represent their country, due to administrative missteps and misconceptions,” stated Mitchell. “These misconceptions, not unlike the actions of the expelled members, have the capacity to tarnish the image of the sport as well as its administration.
“Why would a country’s opportunity to be represented at Olympic events be sacrificed for six months—seemingly on a whim by any Olympic Committee in the free world? Does the TTOC’s questioning the NBFTT’s actions necessitate killing the dreams of a whole nation of ball players?
“What is TTOC’s responsibility to basketball players in this nation? How did TTOC get bogged down into this matter?”
The TTOC is the governing body for all local sporting disciplines for not only the Olympic Games but also events such as the Carifta Games, the Pan American Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Williams suggested that the TTOC would lose its moral authority if it allowed sporting bodies to simply disregard rulings that it does not like.
“If the Federation had a concern, then there is a process in place to appeal, and they didn’t invoke that,” said Williams. “The TTOC is not bent on frustrating basketball players—that’s not the issue. The issue is that a message has to be sent that when a decision is rendered and goes against a sporting organisation, you cannot just disregard the measure and go ahead as normal.
“What message does that send to other organisations?”
For now, the NBFTT is digging in its heels against what it described as the TTOC’s ‘draconian decision’. Mitchell charged that the Federation will ‘meet TTOC at any forum, Court of Arbitration, civil court, court of public opinion, etc, to correct this national faux pas’.
She claimed a string of recent accomplishments by the NBFTT, including qualification for the Commonwealth Games and Fiba AmeriCup, constitutional reform, and bringing its audited financials up to date.
“The NBFTT has been focused and strategic in its goals to achieve administrative excellence,” stated Mitchell. “[…] Following the accomplishments of 2021, the Federation is now concerned that this suspension, contrived as far as they are concerned, may cast a shadow on its performance and inadvertently stymie its being considered for upcoming sponsorship and/or awards.”
Williams countered that the TTOC is only trying to ensure due process. In theory, the TTOC can expel the NBFTT if the rift continues—which would mean the local basketball body being restricted to Fiba competitions.
However, the TTOC hopes ‘good sense will prevail’.
“Every action that the TTOC took that is averse to the Federation is in keeping with the TTOC’s constitution,” said Williams. “It is about respecting the rules and respecting procedure. Companies operate based on rules. That is the bottom line.”
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