Tennis dispute between two junior players and association to play out in court




In this December 17, 2020 file photo, Yeshowah Campbell-Smith competes in the Boys 12 Singles Division 1 final during the RBC Junior Tennis Tournament, at Country Club, Maraval.  - Angelo Marcelle
In this December 17, 2020 file photo, Yeshowah Campbell-Smith competes in the Boys 12 Singles Division 1 final during the RBC Junior Tennis Tournament, at Country Club, Maraval. – Angelo Marcelle

A dispute between two national youth tennis players and the Tennis Association of TT (TATT) is expected to play out in court over their being left out of a national development program for selection to two international tournaments. Attorneys for Yeshowa Campbell-Smith, 15, and Abba Campbell-Smith, 11, were preparing to file their lawsuit after they were excluded from participating in the national junior development and performance program in preparation for selection for two world championships – the World Junior Tennis Championships (under-14 team) and the Junior Davis Cup (under-16 teams).

Representing the children and their father, Darryl Smith, a former sports minister, is attorney Amy Rajkumar of New City Chambers.

In a letter on Wednesday, which served as a final warning before legal action was taken, Rajkumar complained that despite 2022 being a year of uncertainty, the two young tennis players represented TT in “ways no other tennis athlete from TT has.”

She said they were forced to navigate through the “uncertainty created by the TATT’s breach of duty and still managed to secure 15 international tournaments and 10 championships for TT.

Rajkumar said the duo satisfied the requirements to be selected for the program and denying them the opportunity to qualify for the national team left the association open to expensive and embarrassing litigation.

“Not inviting my client to pre-qualify for the national team selection is tantamount to non-selection for the national team.

“The TATT ought properly to exercise its discretionary powers given to the selection committee by the junior selection policy.

Allowing our clients to participate in the national training program will only benefit the TATT as it will result in the best team being selected.

“Excluding two world-ranking athletes from the selection play-off will only be to the detriment of the TATT team being selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago.

“Further, acting contrary to the best interest of tennis in Trinidad and Tobago and the TATT is a glaring breach of the TATT’s constitution and will result in several fundamental breaches of the law.”

Rajkumar threatened to approach the court for an injunction unless the association reversed its decision to exclude the duo from the program which was scheduled to take place this weekend.

In a response to the threat of legal action on Friday morning, TATT’s lawyer Clay Hackett maintained the association’s position as it relates to Smith’s children.

However, the association gave the undertaking to postpone this weekend’s event to allow Smith’s attorneys to file the proposed legal action.

In the letter, Rajkumar claimed that the children’s exclusion was based on their relatively low rankings due to TATT’s failure to host local competitive tournaments over the past two years.

She said the association’s website listed the local and international tournaments that would be considered in ranking athletes.

“The events used to rank athletes were not properly announced and/or hosted or properly executed by the TATT. This constitutes a breach of duty by the TATT to my clients,” she said.

She said the RBC Tennis Tournament in 2021 was postponed last minute due to the covid19 pandemic, while the TATT National Tennis Tournament, which carried the most points and in which participation is mandatory to represent TT at international tournaments, was canceled three times.

She also said the Catch National Junior Championships was not hosted by TATT, last year.

Rajkumar said after the children’s father failed to get satisfactory responses from TATT over the schedule for local tournaments, he was forced to register his son and daughter in regional tournaments, which they subsequently learned clashed with local tournaments including the RBC Tennis Tournament in December, last year.

“The TATT cannot reasonably expect athletes to prepare for any regional/international without proper notice of when the event is likely to take place or even estimated to take place,” Rajkumar said.

Yeshowa, who represented TT at Central American and Caribbean Tennis Confederation (COTECC) events in the past, was ranked fifth on TATT’s National Junior Rankings Boys Under 14 up to December 21, last year, and TATT only recently published updated rankings in which he placed 19th in the 22 player Under 16 ranking.

Abba, who participated in the Little Mo Tennis Tournament in 2021 and secured the championship, placed third on TATT’s National Junior Rankings Girls Under 12 up to December, last year.

Rajkumar said Abba’s ranking ought to be higher by now, accusing the association of delaying updating the public rankings.

Although the two were excluded from the programme, their elder sibling Em-Miryam Campbell-Smith was selected, the letter said.

In his response on Friday, Hackett said the association was not prepared to revisit its position as to do so will result in TATT “running afoul of its own rules and policies.

“To permit your clients to participate in the national training programme, in the circumstances outlined above and in circumstances where they do not meet the eligibility requirements, is likely to lead to other excluded players seeking similar accommodations from the association.

“It is obvious that such a state of affairs will adversely affect the association’s ability to fulfill its constitutional mandate to effectively govern the game of tennis in Trinidad and Tobago, and more particularly its selection process for tournaments, whether local, regional and/or international .”

He said it was “quite surprising” that the Smiths would blame the association for their non-participation in the events.

However, he said, “in the association’s considered view, neither Mr nor Ms Campbell-Smith is eligible for participation in the said programme, having regard to the operation and conjoint effect of the junior selection policy, the national junior ranking system policy and the aforementioned related rules and guidelines.”

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