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Merritt threatens to sue T&TCA
FM Mario Merritt, supported by two other leading chess players, is threatening to sue the T&TCA over its decision to change the pattern by which the first three winners of the national championship automatically qualify for selection to play in the next Olympiad.
This decision followed a heated argument at last Sunday’s a special general meeting on Sunday held at UTT, Valsayn.
In outlining the proposal, president Russell Smith pointed out that the time lapse between the national contest which ends in May this year and the next Olympiad which comes off in Norway in August 2014 would be too long for players to maintain their winning edge. As a result, he proposed instead that winners of next year’s championship be selected in the team to represent T&T at the Norway Olympiad.
The obvious consequence of this is a change in tradition; this year’s national champion and his two runners up will not be going to the Olympiad.
Strongest objection to this proposal came from FM Merritt who has already qualified to contest the national finals. Merritt argued that the time lapse should not be regarded as a problem since winners of the championship can be sent to play in regional tournaments where they would not only sharpen their form but also prepare appropriately for the Olympiad by meeting strong foreign players with different styles. Inspite of this argument, the Association’s motion was approved by nine votes to six.
A few hours after the Valsayn meeting, Merritt, a lawyer, recorded his strong dissent to the motion by g-mailing the T&TCA executive.
He noted that when he qualified for the national finals he was under, and rightfully so, “a legitimate expectation” that the criteria which obtained before he entered the national championship event would be honoured if he fulfilled his part by reaching the chess finals. “ That expectation is that the tournament would decide the first three places on the team to represent the country” .
Merritt recalled that this position was taken by the Association at an annual general meeting several years ago and has been the basis for selection ever since.
Furthermore, he had to make special arrangements to become available to play since his duty as a lawyer takes him “ both in and outside our jurisdiction.” Accordingly, the FM finalist reserved the right “ to exercise all legal options” to ensure that his legitimate expectations are satisfied.
Former national champion FM Ryan Harper, in supporting Merritt’s objection, said the executive had removed the benefit derived from being national chess champion. He inquired about the new criteria and the benefit of winning the chess crown apart from bragging rights.
Furthermore, he noted there was no prize giving after the qualifiers and wondered about prizes for the national finals as well. Harper bewailed the fact that the Association has been unable to secure sponsors, the Junior Championship had no cash prizes, the Chess-in-Schools programme “ is utterly disorganised” and “ now the T&TCA wants to trample over older players too.”
The six time champion warned the Association that the national finals will lose importance and players.
John Raphael, Bronze medallist at the 1984 Olympiad in Greece, who has coached the T&T team on several outings, also informed the Association that its change in Olympiad selection criteria after the start of the national tournament would be a “ grave error”.
He held that such changes “ must be discussed and circulated well in advance of any tournament that impacts on the established criteria.” Two qualifiers have already been played with participants expecting to be automatically selected for next year’s Olympiad if they should place first, second or third in the finals.
“My suggestion, therefore, is for the Association to allow the criteria to remain as is for the 2014 Olympiad and make the intended changes well in advance of the 2016 Olympiad.”
In a second g-mail the following day, Merritt made his intention clear: He had obtained legal advice and “ will be taking the executive members of the T&TCA to court so that this matter can be settled and there be certainty one way or the other before the next preliminary begins. It is unfortunate but necessary.”
In legal terms, DR believes this triumvirate has a good case. It seems unfair for the Association to abruptly change or even suspend such a well established criteria in mid-stream of the competition. In any case, a contentious court case over such a matter will do one any good, far less the sport itself. DR’s advice: Take it from John Raphael.
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