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CHAMPS JITTERS

Published:Monday | March 28, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Public Defender Earl Witter

Public defender mulls dragging ISSA to court

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

The Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) could find itself before the courts over its decision not to permit seven schools from participating in this year's staging of the GraceKennedy-sponsored Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships due to late entries.

Public Defender Earl Witter - who has taken up the cause of the disenfranchised athletes - yesterday told The Gleaner that he has not ruled out any action to protect the rights of the student athletes.

"The short answer is that I think not. I think not at all," Witter said in response to the question if he would be willing to let the matter rest.

Responding to questions that he might be headed to court today, Witter said a legal challenge of the ISSA decision deserves to be considered.

"As to whether or not it has been and if it has what may happen, I have no comment at this time," added Witter.

But he admitted that attorneys Barrington Frankson, Ian Willkinson and Jodiann Hammitt are prepared to work for free on behalf of the athletes.

"However, there may be insurmountable procedural hurdles with the Championships scheduled to start on Wednesday," Witter said.

According to Witter, the decision by ISSA is unfair and unjust to the athletes.

He noted that the tardiness of the entries was not due to the fault of any student/athlete, but they are the ones being punished.

"If that is the case, these student athletes are prejudiced, penalised, marginalised or otherwise deprived of the opportunity for which they have worked so hard and that is unjust."

The public defender also scoffed at ISSA's claim that it has ruled out schools whose entries were late over the years and could not breach its rules this time around.

According to ISSA president, Dr Walton Small: "When it comes to a decision like this, it is zero tolerance, as we cannot compromise as this is a no, no."

Small also argued that in the past, schools such as Vere Technical and Dinthill Technical were barred because of late entries.

"ISSA cannot be inconsistent as last year a number of schools were booted, including eastern champions Buff Bay High," Small said recently.

But for Witter, there is nothing wrong in making a change this year.

"There cannot, nor should any slavish reliance on precedent to be allowed to perpetuate injustice. I know of no law or precedent which should apply to perpetuate an injustice," Witter argued.

He noted that he had proposed to ISSA that the athletes be allowed to compete as individuals without the school getting any points.

"ISSA has not even acknowledge the recommendation from me. I expected ISSA to at least pay me the courtesy of a response," Witter said while noting that his office is a creature of parliament.

Teams from St George's College, Green Pond, St Andrew Technical, Innswood, Norman Manley, Garvey Maceo and Morant Bay high are out of this year's Championships because they failed to meet the March 11 deadline for entries to be submitted.

Witter told The Gleaner that he has suggested, starting next year, ISSA imposes punitive sanctions on the principals of schools which fail to meet the deadlines for its competitions.

He also said that under the ISSA rules, none of its members can challenge the decisions of its Appeal Board in court.

The ISSA rules also prohibits its members from issuing press releases criticising its decisions.

"On the face of it, those provisions certainly appear to be quite repugnant to the rule of law. They are unconstitutional, null and void and unenforceable," Witter argued.

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com