Thomas, based in the United States, has not received funding since May 2013 and was recently evicted from his apartment due to non-payment of rent. The 26-year-old has had to sell his car and is currently using a bicycle to commute in an effort to cut his costs.
On June 7 this year, Newsday exclusively highlighted Thomas’ financial plight. The hurdler was forced to use a fund-raising website to help him purchase a plane ticket back to Trinidad to compete at the National Track and Field Championships.
The University of Kentucky graduate was ranked as high as fourth in the world in 2012 and won gold at the Gugle Games in July this year in Austria.
Thomas’ financial situation seems to have definitely had a negative effect on his form on the track though as he failed to make it past the preliminary round at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last month. After registering the 11th fastest time in the world for 2013 (13.19 seconds), this season he has recorded a mere 13.42 seconds, the 30th fastest. Speaking with Newsday on Monday, Lewis lamented Thomas’ plight but still believes the EAAP in its current existence can still work.
“There is a structure in place that deals with the Elite Athletes Assistance Programme. It is a public document. The Cabinet guidelines on that indicate a criteria. In the main, that has worked for a number of athletes who have met the criteria however there are some athletes who have had some difficulties. Once that system is working how it is supposed to work, athletes who met the criteria ought not to have difficulties,” he said.
Lewis noted though a critical aspect of the process is the National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) involvement and an endorsement by the TTOC before the application goes to Ministry of Sport for determination of the disbursements of funds.
“If it has not come to the NSO or TTOC then we cannot monitor it. That is important. (When) athletes go directly to the Ministry which is not in accord with the Cabinet approved guideline then it would be difficult for the NSO or TTOC to monitor,” he explained. Asked whether the embarrassing situation Thomas has had to go through could dissuade other athletes from choosing to represent this country in the future, Lewis remained optimistic that it would not.
“I don’t think it would. Once there is an understanding of what is the proper process then the Elite Assistance Programme is meant to work and deliver. Once that process is followed and the guidelines are followed I don’t see why there should be issues,” he added. “The environment that we have here in TT has proven (successful) for the athletes that have had to make that choice in the past — whether it be an Ato Boldon, a Njisane Phillip or a Mikel Thomas,” he continued.
In conclusion, Lewis stated that what is important is that the Elite Athletes guidelines and the contributions of the NSOs and TTOC must not be circumvented and all parties must stick to their portfolios. “Overall, I am very confident that we have the platform and foundation to build upon. There are areas that require improvement but we are on course. It doesn’t mean all is well but once there is cooperation of the stakeholders we have a good thing going. I think that some of the problems that occur is when there is a misunderstanding of the roles and responsibilities. I think the Sports Company and Sport Ministry are facilitators and that the NSOs should be allowed to be responsible for administrating managing and governing their respective sports,” he declared.