President of the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC) Brian Lewis has expressed disappointment after four national athletes employed by the Ministry of Sports were forced into taking no-pay leave when traveling to Toronto for the Pan American Games last month. 

According to Lewis, the athletes’ short-term contracts did not make provisions for special leave. However, he noted it would be difficult for elite athletes to be given special treatment by their employers when the Ministry of Sport could not accommodate its own.

“I was very disquieted to be informed about this,” he said. “I think the fact that they were employed by the Ministry of Sport raises some fundamental questions. Where is the moral authority now to expect that corporate T&T and other employers will consider representing your country as national service. I’m not saying it as a criticism, I’m saying it as an observation and it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with upfront.” 

Lewis stressed that the country needed to create an environment which would enable its athletes to reach their full potential. 

“We still have a lot of work to do and the TTOC is really trying to deepen the whole athlete-centered approach,” he said. “If we really want to achieve ten or more Olympic medals by 2024, we need to ensure our athletes have what they need.”

Lewis did commend the Ministry for its new ‘Podium Push’ initiative, though he was awaiting clarification about whether it would affect existing programmes.

“We have to make sure it is aligned with our various programmes already in place,” he said. “I am a big supporter of our Elite Athletes Assistance Programme. Yes, it needs to be revamped and reviewed. It has been Cabinet-approved. It assures that the TTOC is part of the process which makes for better transparency and accountability, better fairness and equity. 

“I think it is important therefore that whatever is coming up acts as a compliment and not a replacement for the EAAP. The reality is that we are in an environment where due to the drop in oil and gas revenue, the Ministry of Finance has called for belt tightening. If we are coming up with another programme, is it going to be at the expense of the EAAP? I think all these things need to be looked at.”