Under fire Lothian stands ground as TT boss

Sport

Under fire Lothian stands ground as TT boss

Veteran administrator unfazed by court ruling; confident of victory at February polls

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

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Jamaica's table tennis (TT), by its own design and forces, mirrors that of walking through a minefield.

One never knows where the next bombshell will come from, because so fractious is the family that there is always drama around the proverbial corner.

The factions within the table tennis fraternity have, seemingly, consumed themselves with political mudslinging, accusations of impropriety and corruption of the election process in what has become a toxic environment of power struggles, and swollen egos even.

Insiders, who wished not to be named, said national partisan politics is also at play in the organisation.

Crucially, a Supreme Court ruling last year had punched a hole in the already divided organisation. The action was taken in the main by opponents of long-serving president of the Jamaica Table Tennis Association (JTTA) Godfrey Lothian, which successfully made null and void constitutional changes and the result of the February, 2019 elections.

The court ruling critically quashed the election result, where Lothian won by defeating challenger Karen Lym. It also reversed all decisions and amendments to the constitution made at a meeting on January 28, which included a name change from Jamaica Table Tennis Association (JTTA) to Table Tennis Jamaica (TTJ) in a rebranding move.

What this meant, it appeared, is that the power of office reverted to Lothian under the JTTA, but even as his opponents celebrated the court injunction they have challenged the legitimacy of the current administration.

“Members of the organisation met on the 28th of January, 2019, and by two-thirds majority they voted to make amendments to the constitution…after those amendments we had elections on 9th of February 2019, which I won.

“And those who lost took me and the organisation to court and we did not contest. As such, the court ruling went against us. The court ruling was that all the amendments that were made on the 28th of January were null and void, and all the annual general meetings (AGM) and elections activities were also null and void.

“Based on the discussion and understanding from our legal team, is that everything reverted to the Jamaica Table Tennis Association (JTTA), and everything before those activities remained intact…so the name of the organisation is the Jamaica Table Tennis Association and not Table Tennis Jamaica and that's the association I am running,” Lothian told the Jamaica Observer in his effort to shed light on the matter.

The upcoming AGM will be a voting congress to elect a new administration since the last polls were voided.

“According to the constitution of the JTTA, the annual general meeting is due every February, but elections are due every two years, but based on what took place with the activities that made the last elections null and void, the elections have to take place soon,” Lothian said.

In all of the legal wrangling, accusations and counter-accusations and smear campaigning, Lothian appears adept at dodging the proverbial bullet.

For in all attempts to remove him by ballot and the courts, he finds a way to stay rooted, crediting his ability to survive to “broad support” from the sport's constituency.

“Whether you are outside or inside looking in, it would seem there is a divide, and [unavoidably] when you have opposing factions in an organisation, it is that way.

“When people want to get rid of you they will use character assassination; they will use all types of methods because they want to get rid of you, but I think I am very transparent.

“Therefore, only an election will deal with that void and as quickly as the audited financial report is completed, we will be calling that election to deal with that and I hope at that point, everybody will abide by the decision of the membership,” said Lothian, a seasoned administrator.

So far, only one candidate — former player Andrew Lue — has formally indicated his intention to challenge Lothian for the presidency of the JTTA.

Lothian, the president of the Kingston and St Andrew Cricket Association, was frank in responding to claims that the JTTA has not presented audited financials to its membership since 2013, a fact that his opponents have weaponised against him.

“When we came in, honestly, we were operating and presenting financial reports every year, but not audited reports and it wasn't a problem then…the constitution says we should present one every year.

“What we have done now is to send all the documents for 2018 and 2019 to the auditors and those years are being worked on to carry to the AGM. We believe that our accounts should be audited and we believe in transparency and we will be adhering to the constitution,” he said.

Lothian, who spent many years at the Institute of Sport as an administrator, was quick on the draw to repel suggestions that he has used “bogus” clubs to swing votes in his favour. Clubs represent the largest voting bloc of the JTTA.

“People are talking that there are bogus clubs, that's not true, all clubs are legitimate, and we are seeing more people coming to the fore, churches are coming on board, schools are coming, communities are coming, people are yearning as they want to be part of this grand and new paradigm shift in the sport,” said the 64-year-old Lothian.

The community development officer says his detractors are confusing his leadership style that seeks to hold individuals accountable and “his firm hand” in addressing ticklish matters as one fashioned off that of a dictator.

“I am a person like this, if I give you something to do and you are not doing it, you are not going to make me look bad, and based on that, people think I am dictatorial,” noted Lothian.

He countered those who have accused him of being a power hungry man desperately trying to cling to it by saying he has an active leadership succession plan in motion in the JTTA — a move he hopes will show that he is willing to share power, if not surrender it altogether.

“Going forward, we have been developing a second generation of leadership; we have a second-tier leadership which we have been working on over the last couple of years.

“When I was in Japan recently, the organisation ran smoothly because we have people who are ready to run the organisation, so if I step aside tomorrow morning, the organisation will be in good hands,” he said with an air of pride.

Lothian says as testimony to “the commitment” of his council, all programmes of the sport have not been affected by the boardroom tug of war.

“The business of table tennis continues. In fact, I just returned from Japan, with the National Coach Sandra Riettie and four players — Rasheed Clarke, Joel Butler, Tolisha Young, and Olivia Pretreken — as guests of the Japanese Table Tennis Association. While there, the players underwent high-intensity and high-performance training, and I know that those four players are now in a better place.

“We have also had intensive discussion with the Argentina Table Tennis Association as to a camp soon, so the business of table tennis goes on at full speed. Right now Kane Watson and Simon Tomlinson are trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics and they are now in the United States under the watchful eye of a top coach there and then they will be going to Portugal and Spain,” Lothian explained.

He says that all the local competitions are being executed on schedule.

“We have the national Table Tennis Premier League — male and female — almost at its semi-final stage. Also, we are in preparation for the primary and prep school competitions [and] we are looking to have the grand prix in the five confederations in the country, so the business of table tennis is alive and well. This distraction [elections and power struggle] does not affect us in any way as we move ahead,” Lothian stated.

Since taking over local table tennis in 2013, the administrator says he is pleased with the overall growth of the sport.

“I am very satisfied where we have come as a table tennis playing country…don't forget that in 2014 we had gone to Japan where we won the Fifth Division with the likes of Simon Tomlinson, Kane Watson, Michael Hyatt and we won, which is a world title. People didn't see it as significant because it was the Fifth Division, but it was the first time it was happening.

“You must recall that in three consecutive years — 2016, 2017, and 2018 — we had regional championships inside the National Arena and the National Indoor Sport Centre. Jamaica for the first time in 2017 won 17 medals and came second to the Dominican Republic…the expansion of the sport in primary and prep schools across Jamaica is amazing, so I am extremely happy with the progress in the development of table tennis across the landscape of Jamaica,” Lothian shared.

A wrinkle in the fabric of the sport, he admits, is a facility for table tennis to call its home.

“The biggest shortcoming we have is that we don't have a centre of our own to play when we want, but we have been working assiduously on that and we were finalising plans with the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) for the second floor at Sabina Park when all this foolishness [court action] happened and that had to be put on hold,” he said.

Lothian, who is a director of the JCA, says corporate and Government support for table tennis has been encouraging.

“We do get a lot of corporate support and we couldn't have done all of this without corporate support, and we get tremendous support from Government.

“We just now need to get the elections out of the way and then we can have a meeting with everybody on my side and on the losers' side because I am confident that I will be returned as I have the support of the broad cross section of membership,” said a confident Lothian.

At next month's elections Lothian will be seeking his fourth mandate as president, and after overseeing the implementation of key infrastructure, he says he would be content to step aside, if the membership no longer needs him.

“What I want to see is the development of a proper premier league, the grand prix running properly, the prep and primary leagues running properly…I want to see us having a centre. I want to see us getting back to the World Championships and the Olympics, and after that, I don't see me having anything else to do as I would have achieved all that I set out to,” Lothian concluded.

On his slate are loyalists Darrington Ferguson (first vice-president), Francena Pryce (second vice-president), Andrea Murray (general secretary), Paul Williamson (assistant general secretary), Errol Hoilett (treasurer), Gary Catnott (assistant treasurer) and a nine-member council to run the affairs for another term if elected.

One hundred and four clubs are said to be eligible to vote.


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