France-based professional table tennis player Rheann Chung has invoked Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) arbitration.
Chung is challenging the T&T Table Tennis Association (TTTTA) decision that she must return home, at her own expense, to compete in national team trials on Saturday, March 1. Following the trials, the sport’s local governing body plans to select players for the April 3-8 Caribbean Senior Championships in Cuba and the April 15-19 Olympic Qualifier in Argentina.
In an email to Chung, last month, TTTTA general secretary Edwin Caines informed the player that she had been shortlisted for trials. He also noted that “the TTTTA is unable to fund any players to attend the above mentioned tournaments”.
Chung subsequently requested exemption from the March 1 competition.
“I therefore ask the committee to consider exempting me from trials at this stage, in light of my recent international results, my professional standing, proven podium potential and the fact that I am a full-time professional table tennis player based in France.”
Chung is T&T’s best-ever female table tennis player. She is a five-time Caribbean women’s singles champion, and also earned bronze at the 2014 Latin American Championships. Chung and her now deceased stepfather Dexter St Louis teamed up for multiple Caribbean mixed doubles titles. And she also has the distinction of qualifying for the Pan American Games three times—2007, 2011 and 2019.
St Louis died last May following a brief illness. Still grieving, Chung honoured St Louis’ death bed wish and travelled to Guatemala for the Pan Am Games qualifying tournament. In a show of character, she qualified for the Games, before returning to Bordeaux, France for her mentor’s funeral.
For the 2019 Pan Am qualifier, Chung was selected automatically. Brittany Joseph also travelled to Guatemala, but did not earn a spot in the Pan Am Games women’s singles event in Lima, Peru. Aaron Wilson and Curtis Humphreys also represented T&T in Guatemala, but were unable to qualify for the Lima 2019 men’s singles event.
St Louis and Chung had taken the TTTTA to court over their non-selection for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. They both attended the Games after the TTOC opened up two additional Team TTO spots for table tennis. The case, however, continued. A settlement was eventually reached last November, six months after St Louis’ untimely passing.
The Dexter St Louis Memorial Fund to assist “up-and-coming table tennis athletes” was established as part of the settlement.
A joint statement was issued on the day of the settlement: “The parties having recognised that a long, contested High Court action would only serve to deepen divides, entrench and, perhaps, financially destabilise the sport of table tennis in this country.”
Attorneys Matthew Gayle and Dr Emir Crowne represented St Louis and Chung in the case against the TTTTA. Gayle and Crowne, as well as Jason Jones, Kerrina Samdeo and Crystal Paul will be in Chung’s corner for the arbitration proceedings that were invoked yesterday.
“I’m absolutely flabbergasted,” Gayle told the Express. “In light of what happened with Rheann and the late, great Dexter St Louis and the TTTTA, I can’t believe we’re back there again. The TTTTA executive has not learnt lessons from the past executive. They’ve implemented the policy in a way that is directly set up to negatively impact Rheann. It seems that they have done so deliberately.
“I am confident,” the attorney continued, “that the arbitration will find that the association acted improperly in the way they have gone about deselecting my client. It’s interesting that for the 2019 Pan Am Games she was automatically selected. There was no notice of a change of policy to implement mandatory trials, and there was only a short window of notice to inform her of trials.”
Gayle said he will stop at nothing in the pursuit of justice for his client.
“We will be making it clear at TTOC that if this arbitration is not convened and determined in an expeditious manner so as not to hamper Rheann’s chances of attending the Caribbean Championships and Olympic qualifiers, we will approach the high court to injunct the association. We’re asking for Rheann to be treated fairly in all the circumstances.
“It’s clear,” Gayle continued, “that those who are selecting are acting to exclude Rheann, and any motive that would drive you to do that is an improper one. I think it’s interesting that the president’s daughter is in the running, and her chances would improve if Rheann is excluded from the mix.”
Two-time national women’s singles champion Brittany Joseph is the daughter of TTTTA president David Joseph. Chung, Joseph, Catherine Spicer, Aleena Edwards, Linda Partap-Boodhan, Imani Edwards-Taylor and Chelsea Fong are the players called to trials by the TTTTA. Spicer is the daughter of South Zone secretary Simon Spicer, Edwards is North Zone president and aunt of Edwards-Taylor, and Partap-Boodhan is the Central Zone president.
Four female players can represent T&T at the Caribbean Championships. Only two, however, can attend the Olympic qualifiers.
The March 1 T&T trials will clash with the February 28 to March 1 French Championships. Last month, Chung won the Criterium Federal National 1 Elite “B” women’s singles event in Agen, France, to earn promotion to Elite “A” and qualify for the prestigious French Championships.
Contacted by the Express yesterday for a reaction to Chung’s invocation of TTOC arbitration, president Joseph declined to comment.
“I prefer not to respond right now, until all the facts are clear.”