THE HIGH Court’s ruling in the Thema Williams matter is not only a vindication for her but also a victory for athletes everywhere. At a time when some believe the breakdown of law and order and the failure of key institutions have placed the country on an irreversible path, the court has provided redress and shown that people who abuse their power will be made to pay a price.
Some cynics might dismiss the $11 million lawsuit brought by Williams as a case of sour grapes or, worse, an attempt to profit. But they would be foolish to do so.
This case was about more than one person. It was about the problematic nexus between prejudice and decision-making; the constant microaggressions faced by marginalised groups in our society; and the challenges which our athletes – who do us an immeasurable public service – face behind the scenes. It was a case that should be understood not in terms of profit but penalty.
Here was a national-level sporting body, the recipient of taxpayer funding, that committed a grave wrong and had, until Monday morning, never faced any real consequences. More than any other case in history, Williams’ lawsuit brought to the fore the ugly and unglamorous side of local gymnastics.
“The court formed the view that these defendants allowed their entrenched biases to cloud their judgment and they acted with undue haste, deprived themselves of the benefit of relevant information and ultimately effected a flawed decision,” ruled Justice Frank Seepersad.
His conclusion was damning given the degree of deliberation, determination, and discipline required of the athletes whom the federation is tasked with lording over. How can we expect our sportsmen and sportswomen to work hard to do their best when the bodies overseeing them are failing?
Williams’ experience was just another in a long list of instances in which such bodies have gone afoul. Other examples of this kind of maladministration include the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation’s contemptuous treatment of its players; the sparring between Cricket West Indies (formerly the West Indies Cricket Board) and its star players; and the general failure on the part of organisations to disburse financial support in a timely manner. But the knowledge that poor conduct will have a price, assessed as $.2 million in this case, will hopefully be a potent deterrent.
Finally, some may be inclined to see this case as a matter of cliques. While that is undoubtedly a key part of life in any small society, it cannot be denied that race, complexion and the question of who gets to define what a “local” gymnast should look like, loomed large in this matter.
In this regard, the case is a reminder of the fact that, given the messiness of such issues, fairness and the rule of law are essential checks.