Green light for O'Hara
Despite signing a contract with Digicel, Michael O'Hara did not receive any money or property to jeopardise his amateur status.
That was the main argument presented by a team of three attorneys that led to the Calabar High School standout regaining his amateur status and being declared eligible to compete at the ongoing Penn Relays by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA).
United States-based attorneys Steven Silver and Paul Greene along with local attorney Donovan Williams prepared documents and argued successfully before the Philadelphia Court of Common Plea - first, that the 18-year-old had the right to a hearing, subsequently pointing to a section in the PIAA Constitution and By Laws, which made provisions for the regaining of amateur status.
This essentially cleared the way for the young sprinter to take his place on the Calabar team at the April 23-25 relay carnival.
On April 14, the PIAA, which oversees the high-school section of the event, which takes place at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field, declared that O'Hara and Wolmer's Boys hurdler Jaheel Hyde would both be barred from representing their schools after they were deemed to have received commercial benefits related to the athletic performances.
O'Hara stirred controversy when he was announced as a brand ambassador for telecommunications company Digicel, while Hyde is sponsored by their rivals, LIME.
However, in a joint release issued to the media yesterday, O'Hara's legal team noted the adjustments, with Silver later telling The Gleaner that the Jamaican has all right to compete at the meet, given the rules and provisions of the PIAA.
"I think just the fact that a contract exists is not enough to suspend somebody under their own rules. I think they interpreted their rule incorrectly and as long as payment of services and goods have not been exchanged, that athletes should be allowed to compete. They are still amateurs; the fact that they wouldn't even give Michael (O'Hara) a hearing initially, was shocking," Silver said from his Philadelphia office.
The attorney shared that contact was made with the PIAA on Monday morning when a deadline of Tuesday afternoon was presented for them to consult and reconsider their position on O'Hara.
When that directive was not met, the team then filed an emergency injunction late Tuesday afternoon before a Wednesday morning hearing in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas with the PIAA, the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Relays Carnival named as defendants.
"In the US, we have due process, and that means you are afforded the right to notice and to defend against things like this ... you have the right to a hearing," Silver noted.
The court ruled that the PIAA should afford the athlete a hearing, but on Wednesday afternoon at approximately 4 o'clock (Jamaica time), a five-person PIAA District One Committee panel ruled against O'Hara and decided to uphold the original judgement around his ineligibility. An appeal was also rejected by the PIAA's Executive panel, but on Thursday morning at approximately 10 o'clock, it was agreed that the athlete would be immediately reinstated after Article 2, Section 4 of the PIAA Constitution was triggered.
The section reads: "A student who has lost amateur status pursuant to Section 2A and/or B hereof may be reinstated by the suspending body effective upon the student's return to the provider of the Consideration item or items which caused such loss of amateur status."
"We used that to argue that Michael (O'Hara) had not received anything tangible yet so there was nothing to return and as a result he should have been reinstated," Silver argued.
Sterling continued that O'Hara did not yet receive any money or consideration under the Digicel agreement and so the contract was not in effect since neither party performed their requirements.
Meanwhile, Hyde's manager Garfield Coke advised that his athlete will not be competing at the Penn Relays, noting that he will instead focus on the upcoming Cayman Invitational, the National Senior Championships and other events.