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Sunday 18 November 2018
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Judge: Thema’s case of national importance

TT GYMNAST Thema Williams has scored her first victory in challenging the local Gymnastics Federation’s (TTGF) decision to pull her out of an Olympic Test event, one year ago, which shattered her dream of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. She was replaced by Marisa Dick as TT’s representative to the Rio Olympic Games.

In a written ruling yesterday, Justice Frank Seepersad struck out the Federation’s preliminary objection to Williams’ lawsuit, in which Williams is seeking $11.38 million compensation, for “harsh and oppressive” actions against her. The judge added that the case is of national importance.

The dispute began after Williams was replaced at the Olympic Test Event at Rio de Janeiro in April last year.

Williams claimed that her coach John Geddert was informed by the Federation that she was withdrawn because of injury, a claim Williams denies.

Alternate athlete Marisa Dick was selected to participate in the test event and eventually qualified to become the first person to represent TT in gymnastics at an Olympics. According to the Federation’s defence, Williams’ Athlete’s Agreement with the Federation expressly provided that all disputes arising out of/or connected with the agreement were subject to resolution exclusively through the procedures set out by the TTGF bylaws and/or, if appropriate, through the procedures of the TT Olympic Committee.

The TTGF said Williams’ own attorneys activated the dispute resolution provisions after she was pulled from the Olympic Test Event.

It said it established a disciplinary committee to preside over any matter relating to the rules and regulations to its membership and any claim against the TTGF arising from the athlete’s agreement constituted a dispute.

But in his ruling, Justice Seepersad held that the dispute resolution clause contained in the TTGF’s bylaws and its constitution was, ‘imprecise in its language’ and could not be viewed as an enforceable contractual provision which mandated parties to go to dispute resolution.

He also found that the federation’s athlete agreement did not make reference to dispute resolution.

Justice Seepersad said if denied the opportunity to litigate her claim, Williams’ will suffer substantial prejudice.

The court’s ruling now takes Williams’ lawsuit against the TTGF one step further and a case management hearing will be held on May 15, at which time, directions are expected to given by the judge for the filing of pleadings by each side. In his ruling, Justice Seepersad noted that Williams had alleged that the federation’s former executive members had colluded and conspired amongst themselves to ensure that she was not able to participate in the Rio Olympics.

“These are serious complaints that go to the root of the first defendant’s (TTGF’s) method of operation,” the judge said, adding that some aspects of Williams’ lawsuit cannot be adequately addressed by way of dispute resolution.

He also noted Williams’ ‘deep-rooted concerns’ of the dispute resolution process being fair, independent, and impartial given the composition of the disciplinary committee. “The issues in this matter are of national importance,” he said.

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