Sun | May 28, 2017

Tennis Jamaica taken to court - Parents claim favouritism in team selection

Published:Sunday | October 5, 2014 | 10:00 AM
Joe Dibbs, father of Emma Dibbs. - File
John Azar, father of Johnny Azar. - File
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The John Bailey-led Tennis Jamaica administration will have to defend its decision to forego national trials this year ahead of next month's International Tennis Federation (ITF)/GSDF 12 and Under Central America and the Caribbean Tennis Confederation (COTECC) Team Championships set for Mexico, November 1-7, after the parents of the island's two top players in the age group filed court documents last Friday.

The case is scheduled to be heard this week, with the parents calling on the local tennis administrators to reconsider their position and stage a national trial amid claims of nepotism and several cases of conflict of interest within the association.

One Tennis Jamaica board member, who asked not to be named, strongly dismissed the suggestion, underlining that the decision was taken to encourage wider participation and further develop the sport.

"I have heard the talk of favouritism, but that is simply not the case. It's a developmental meet, and we took the decision to focus on developing the players and the sport; it's not all about winning," said the official.

At the centre of the controversy is the four-member team selected to represent the island at the tournament in Mexico.

Missing from the team are top-ranked male player and three-time All Jamaica champion Johnny Azar, as well as number-one 12 and under female Emma Dibbs. Both players, who competed at last year's ITF/GSDF COTECC tournament, are also ranked in the top two of the 14 and under category.

Local trial

The pair was, however, absent from a pre-qualifying tournament in St Lucia earlier this year after their parents, who were invited to the tournament two days before the deadline for entry, were told by Tennis Jamaica's vice-president and chairman of the technical committee, Llockett McGregor, that like previous years, there would be a subsequent local trial to select the team to Mexico.

This was also the case a year ago, when Azar was among the group of players that competed at the pre-qualifying tournament held in Kingston on that occasion, before confirming his selection at the national trials upon Tennis Jamaica's insistence that its policy of using trials to select the best team possible would be honoured.

Upon returning from St Lucia a few weeks ago, McGregor how-ever, advised the parents that there would not be a trial this year based on the ITF's recommendation. Checks by young Azar's father, John Azar, later revealed that this was not so, and despite advising TJ through emails, the decision was upheld at a board meeting on September 24.

"That is not a matter that I can comment on at
this point, you will have to speak to Tennis Jamaica about that," said
McGregor, who turned down two opportunities to comment on the matter
when contacted by The Sunday
Gleaner
.

Calls to several members of the
Tennis Jamaica board, as well as president Bailey's cell phone went
unanswered throughout last week.

"Everybody knew there
was supposed to be a trials after the tournament in St Lucia to qualify
to go to Mexico, as was the case last year," explained Joe Dibbs,
father of Emma Dibbs.

"All of a sudden, out of the
blue, for no apparent reason, they have changed their standard policy,
decided there will be no trials and decided to send the team that went
to St Lucia. It is affecting the players; players who want to try out
for the team. At a trials, many people would get a chance to represent
their country," Dibbs added.

It certainly doesn't sit
well with the parents that McGregor is the coach of one of the four
players selected to compete in Mexico, while Bailey's company also
sponsors another. A third player is coached by Richard Russell - another
member of the Tennis Jamaica board - raising concerns of a conflict of
interest and whether or not favouritism was at play in the selection of
the team.

"There is a terrible conflict of interest; I
can't understand it," Dibbs blasted. "My daughter is not affiliated
with anyone there, so they just bounced her out, and that's the type of
nepotism going on there. It's not right!

John Azar was
also disappointed with the decision to scrap trials this year, given
the existing precedence, taking into consideration also his son's
number-one ranking.

"I'm disappointed that a decision
was made using the incorrect fact, and in bringing the correct
information to Tennis Jamaica, I would have expected that being aware of
the true facts, they would have revisited the decision and do what was
right and fair, in keeping with what was done last year in the same
situation," Azar said, while defending his decision to take the
association to court.

Effect
change

"It's not the ideal course of action, but this
situation is anything but ideal. This stance is not only for this team
selection, but we are hoping that it will effect change for years to
come. There have always been allegations regarding team selections, so
it's important that a stance be taken," said Azar.

In a
letter dated September 29, 2014, Tennis Jamaica responded to the
parents, pointing out: "It is important to note that the board reserves
the right and has autonomy to determine the need for trials versus
selecting a team based on recently conducted tournaments or any other
criteria.

"We fully understand the argument being put
forward by you, but believe that on this occasion, and without setting a
precedent for any future tournaments, this is the correct decision at
this time," the letter read.