TT Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) president Andy Gomez-Burke yesterday made it clear he intends to appeal the judgement of High Court Judge Frank Seepersad who on Monday ordered the TTGF to pay Thema Williams $200,000 in damages for unfairly replacing her as TT's representative for a 2016 Olympic qualifier.
“As the president of the council, I can say we are going to appeal,” Gomez-Burke said yesterday in a phone conversation. “Unless one of my beautiful council members can give me $200,000 to go and pay Thema Williams, I am appealing this matter.”
Gomez-Burke told Newsday he still has to meet with TTGF council members to make a final decision, but was adamant appealing was the best course of action.
“I think the judge erred in law,” Gomez-Burke said.
Burke told Newsday while he believed the judge gave his opinion from a moral standpoint, the appeal will be based on Williams’s contract with the TTGF which, he said, clearly states the TTGF can withdraw an athlete if he/she is injured. He said physiotherapists who gave evidence in the case said Williams told them she had been injured on March 29, 2016, in a level 10 event. She was warned not to go to that event, he said, because they knew she was experiencing difficulty with a sore ankle.
In response to Senior Counsel Martin Daly's statement on Tuesday that he intends to write the Ministry of Sport to find out if it would pay the money owed to Williams, Gomez-Burke said asking the government to pay was “absurd.”
“I cannot now go and tell the Minister of Sport I think she should go and pay a $200,000 subvention to Williams. It would be absurd of me to think that I could ask the Minister or the Prime Minister or even the taxpayers to go and pay Williams that money. Or should I hold a fundraiser and ask 200,000 people to pay me $1 each?”
Gomez-Burke revealed that since the controversy began in 2016, the TTGF has not received a penny in subventions. He said most of its funds are earned from entrance fees to events, and most of the money earned last year was spent on defending the TTGF in court.
“I don’t sit with a bank account with $200,000. And unlike football that gets lots of subvention and grants from FIFA, we don’t get grants, period,” Gomez-Burke said.
The TTGF boss said if an appeal is not filed, they will attempt to arrange with Williams to pay her from money the TTGF earns from events and registrations. He noted, however, that several major clubs have not paid their dues.
Justice Seepersad ruled in favour of Williams earlier this week after she sued the TTGF and four of its executive – David Marquez, Akil Wattley and Ricardo and Donna Lue Shue. Williams said she was unfairly treated when she was replaced as the TT representative for the final 2016 Olympic gymnastics qualifying event in April that year.
Although Williams sued for $11 million, she was awarded $200,000. During a press conference on Tuesday, Martin Daly, SC, said it was more a matter of principle than money, and although Gomez-Burke met with Williams and her lawyers, the TTGF could not give them what they really wanted – an apology from the four executive members responsible for Williams being dropped.
Gomez-Burke told Newsday yesterday he did offer an apology but they refused to accept it.
Gomez-Burke said one person who deserved an apology was Williams’ replacement, Marisa Dick.
Dick, he said, "has put on our red white and black to represent us 16 times.
"People think that we just pulled this child’s name out of a hat and put her in front of Williams. The Commonwealth spot that TT has for gymnastics was earned by Marisa Dick. Quite a few people don’t know that either.
"But they vilified her and said all kinds of things about her in calypso tents and on social media and the news, and I think we owe her an apology. Because what did she do wrong?”