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‘We support Thema’

Saturday, March 5, 2016

T&T gymnast Thema Williams should be celebrated for her bravery instead of being shamed says participants of the “We Support Thema” campaign. The gymnast, who should be preparing to represent this country in the 2016 Rio Olympics is currently at the centre of a controversy over a topless photo with the caption “Being a black woman is an honour...always.”

The photo shows Williams smiling and wearing shorts while covering her upper body with her arms. It was posted on Williams’ Instagram account one year ago and deleted within 24 hours. It resurfaced last week when a screenshot sent to the T&T Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) from a “concerned parent.”

The federation was then sent another topless photo, this time of Marissa Dick, another T&T gymnast expected to go to Rio this year. Thema’s other Instagram photos show her love of art, gymnastics and family, and a social consciousness and awareness of current events.

While many, including feminist group Womantra stood in support of both girls and accused the TTGF of shaming young women, local professionals have stood in strong support of Williams. This culminated in a campaign initiated by Williams’ godmother, local comedian, actress and media personality Nicki Crosby.

Crosby along with several other notable women, including entertainers, athletes and business professionals, removed their tops and faced the camera in a show of strength for Williams. In an interview on CNC3 this week, Crosby said the campaign was very personal to her, having watched Williams’ train toward her goal of competing in the Olympics for the past 17 years.

Williams is 20 years old.

“This is a young girl that gave up a scholarship in the United States and she said no to the US and no to the scholarship because she wanted to represent Trinidad and Tobago and to know that this picture has caused so much controversy, we can’t believe this is an issue.”
Crosby commented on the hypocrisy of Williams facing disciplinary action for the photo, in a country where weeks ago, the celebration of bodies on the streets at Carnival time was given positive attention.

“We were mostly a half naked T&T and now we are saying no it is wrong to do what you did and this is while athletes around the world are celebrating their bodies because it is a work of art.

“It’s hard work and they appreciate it and I really regret that I live in a country where an athlete can be shamed and brought before a disciplinary committee and probably looking to threaten her walk to Rio (because of a photo),” Crosby said.

The campaign started in the form of a photo shoot.

“I just called people, many of them, were friends that I knew. There were many people that wanted to be in it, people like Ria Ramnarine our female boxer, so many other people wanted to be in it but just couldn’t make the shoot.

“It’s not about being topless, you know some people are missing the point. It’s about fighting for the rights. This is bullying. This is victimisation but at the end of the day, this is the person that has qualified for the Rio Olympics and this is the person that should go.”

Williams signed her contract with the TTGF in October 2016, nine months after the photo was published then deleted. In October of that same year, Williams and Dick’s names would be linked again as the TTGF seemed to contravene its own rules in relation to the two athletes and the Olympic Games.

According to the TTGF selection policy, Williams should be the one to represent T&T at the Olympic Test Event in Rio, Brazil in April.  Williams and Dick both competed in the artistic women’s individual qualification at the World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, with Williams finishing 59th and Dick ending 77th overall.  

The TTGF selection policy stated that “The WAG (Women’s Artistic Gymnastics) gymnast who scores the highest all-around score at the World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow 2015 will be the athlete selected by the TTGF Selection Committee to move forward to represent T&T at the Olympic Test Event in Rio, Brazil in April 2016 once her scores allow her selection by the International Federation of Gymnastics to this event.” 

The committee later told parents that the two girls (Williams and Dick) would have to compete in two more events before a decision was taken. Creative Content Specialist Sophie Wight is another participant in the campaign. In an interview this week, Wight said she was disappointed that certain groups in T&T were not progressive or understanding.

Wight said she made attempts to contact the TTGF so that she could share her views with the members of the committee. She was unsuccessful, so when a friend told her about the campaign, despite having insecurities she came on board.

“What Thema did in taking those photos should be celebrated and she should never be shamed for her statement,” Wight said. Fay-Ann Lyons, soca star, said the very idea of Williams being sent to a disciplinary committee over the photo was ridiculous. 

“I saw some of the bruises on her hands she got in trying to be the best at what she does. I’ve seen some really big name athletes and sport personality who did nude shoots for magazines.

“I saw the photos (Williams’). We see more skin on the beach and in the miss universe pageants. I think we need to look at the intent of the picture.”

The show of support from the national community is yet to be rewarded, as the TTGF, in a statement early this week, reminded the nation that the Olympic spot did not belong to either athlete but to the country.

The committee is set to meet this week to make a decision on the issue.


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