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Track and Field Association: 'We did nothing wrong'

Bermuda Track and Field Association have made it clear that they had no authority to prevent a local athletics club from taking four of the Island's top athletes on an educational tour of the US.

In a controversy that erupted last week, Mid Island Striders' head coach Bill Euler and assistant Renelda Swan claimed they had been thwarted by the governing body in their attempt to take as their guests youngsters Zindzi Swan, Shardae Whitter, Tiffany Eatherley and Brittany Marshall on a trip during which they planned to visit several US colleges and universities as well as attend the prestigious Penn Relays.

The Striders, with five of their own athletes and five coaches, left on Sunday without the four national team members.

However, BTFA director Annette Hallett said Striders' claim that they had been refused sanction for the tour was entirely wrong.

“The fact is, if it was purely an educational tour, then they didn't need sanction,” said Hallett. “And as far as I'm aware nobody was discouraging the children from going if they weren't going to compete. But if they were going to compete it was a different matter.

“Originally we were led to believe the athletes would be watching or competing at the Penn Relays.”

Hallett denied claims by both Euler and Renelda Swan that the four athletes had been told by national coach Gerry Swan they would be barred from the national programme if they participated in the trip.

And she said at least three of the youngsters' parents had indicated they did not want their children to travel.

“When I spoke to Mr. (Gerry) Swan he told me he had sat the athletes down and explained to them that there might be repercussions if they went on tour with the Striders and participated at a meet. He told them they could be contravening IAAF rules if they competed on a tour that wasn't sanctioned and without the national coach in attendance.

“But in a meeting at which some mothers of the athletes were present, they indicated their children wouldn't be going anyway.”

Hallett noted also that two of the coaches cited by the Striders as being qualified to a standard laid down by the world governing body, the IAAF, were not included on the official IAAF register.

“We've been told that Renelda Swan and Steve Burgess are IAAF-qualified coaches, but the fact is they are not registered with the IAAF according to our information. I believe they both took a course in 1995 but for some reason whoever conducted that course never submitted their names to the IAAF.

“And according to IAAF rules, any national team athlete travelling to a meet overseas has to be accompanied by a qualified IAAF coach.”

Before leaving on Sunday, Euler told The Royal Gazette that he had spoken to all four of the athletes' parents, all of whom, he said, had given permission for their children to travel.

And he said the only reason they had not joined the Striders was that they had been told by coach Gerry Swan that they would be axed from the national programme if they travelled.

“The whole reason for our college tours is education,” said Euler. “Mrs. (Judy) Simmons (BTFA president) and coach Swan were both informed verbally and in writing that this tour was all about visiting various universities in the United States.

“I suggested to coach Swan and Mrs. Simmons that if their athletes were not being allowed to compete in the Penn Relays, to please let them participate so they could at least see what college life would be like.

“Our college tours are about exposing our students/athletes to college life and hopefully putting a spark in them to further their education.”

Regarding the possibility of athletes competing while in the US, Euler continued: “Contrary to what Mrs. Simmons has been saying, we did not have to notify the BTFA about competing in the Florida Relays or the Penn Relays, because the athletes would not have been representing their country but their own high schools.

“All we had to do was get sanctioned by the BSSF (Bermuda Schools Sports Federation), get permission from their high schools and the Ministry of Education, and merely inform the BTFA of our intentions. We went through the correct protocol."