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June 06, 2020

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Shameful St Louis axing completes long-term plot

Do not be fooled. The shameful axing of local table tennis great Dexter St Louis did not happen, as the Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (T&TTTA) would have you believe, at last Saturday's management meeting.

That meeting was merely the final act in a long-term plot engineered by a key personality in the sport here in T&T.

The T&TTTA press release, issued on Sunday by president Stanley Hunte to announce the team for the July 3-8 Caribbean Championships in Martinique, stated: ?a significant majority were of the view that emphasis must now be placed on our youth?.

That was the lame attempt to justify the exclusion of the country's best-ever player. St Louis is 47 years old, so it's the easiest factor to point to.

Let's deal with the important facts now.

St Louis is, by far, T&T's best player. So, this axing bears no similarity to Shivnarine Chanderpaul's. With the 40-year-old Guyanese batting great struggling, he lost his place to a younger player. The decision, whether you agree with it or not, was made in an attempt to give West Indies the best possible chance of having a successful series against Australia.

St Louis is not struggling! And there is no T&T player?young, old or in between?who can genuinely contend with the France-based professional for selection on any team.

I am part of the T&T table tennis fraternity, playing on the local circuit since 1981. I have seen all the top players play on numerous occasions, so my declaration that there is no other T&T player even close to St Louis' standard is made without fear of contradiction.

Two years ago, there was a failed attempt to keep St Louis off the Caribbean Championship team. Age and finances were the reasons offered at the time. The southpaw responded by winning his fifth regional men's singles title without dropping a single game.

St Louis followed up on that 2013 Caribbean Championship success in St Lucia by reaching the quarterfinal round at the 2014 Latin American Championships, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Reaching the last eight at this tournament is a huge achievement for a player from the English-speaking Caribbean.

In November, St Louis combined with Curtis Humphreys for men's doubles bronze at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, in Mexico.

The Latin American and CAC Games successes came at the age of 46. Is this the same St Louis the T&TTTA has dropped because he is 47?

Sadly, partisan interests have often taken precedence over the greater good in T&T table tennis. So, in case anyone suspects I am championing some petty club agenda, let me make it absolutely clear that in my 34 years in the sport, I have never been Dexter St Louis' teammate.

We played for rival clubs in the 1980s, and he whipped me in a National Classified Championship boys' singles final. And in a National Secondary Schools Championship team final, he was part of the Chaguanas Senior Comprehensive team that won, and I was a member of the beaten Queen's Royal College outfit.

Yes, like every other T&T player who has come up against St Louis, I know what it's like to look across the table and know that I'm not in the same league as my opponent.

There's no shame in not matching up to St Louis. He's just that good. For the players bidding to make a T&T team, the two-time Olympian ought to be the standard, and getting selected at his expense cannot be cause for celebration.

Humphreys, Yuvraaj Dookram, Aaron Wilson and Arun Roopnarine are the players named by the T&TTTA for the Caribbean Championship men's team event.

According to the pecking order in the TTTTA press release, Roopnarine is the player who benefitted from St Louis' exclusion.

That brings me to a pertinent question. How was St Louis dropped in the first place? He had earlier been informed by one of the team coaches, Reeza Burke that he had been selected. The professional that he is, St Louis began serious preparations for the Championships. Unfortunately, the administrators are not of similar ilk.

It was actually a positive move to have coaches select the national team. For many years I have had a problem with parental influence when it comes to selection.

Aleena Edwards, Catherine Spicer, Brittany Joseph and Linda Partap-Boodhan are the T&T women for the Caribbean Championships. Spicer's father, Simon Spicer is a T&TTTA vice president, while Joseph's father, Dave Joseph is a former public relations officer.

On the men's side, Roopnarine's father, Bob Roopnarine is a former T&TTTA secretary, serving up until January this year, but is still very very influential.

I have openly expressed my displeasure with the inclusion of parents on association selection committees. So, when I realised coaches were picking the team, and that the national coaches, Burke and Ian Joseph, are not parents of any of the contenders for selection, I was pleased.

It seemed a bit strange, though, that president Hunte was apparently a third member of that selection group. I can't imagine Stephen Hart having to consult TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee on his final Soca Warriors squad for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Anyway, that's another issue.

My concern is that the ?coaches' pick? system is nullified when you are required to go to the management committee for ratification. It takes you back to square one, since the very parents and/or their allies get to pick the team.

The coaches that were entrusted with the responsibility of coming up with the best possible team to represent the country, based on their technical knowledge, have essentially been told by the T&TTTA you didn't do a good enough job.

The result is T&T will go into the Caribbean Championships without a player capable of leading and inspiring the team to a multiple-gold medal performance. St Louis has done it before, and can certainly do it again.

Did I mention that another France-based pro and five-time Caribbean singles champion is also off the team? Disgusted with the treatment of her step-father, the country's best-ever female player, Rheann Chung declined selection.

Sadly, parental influence has prevailed. This is what happens when there is weak leadership of the T&TTTA.

Mr Brent Sancho, you are well known for your indignation when it comes to injustice in local football. You are now the Minister of Sport, all sports, in T&T. Please look into this abuse that has been meted out to a fellow-elite sportsman.

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