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‘Watson’s rant was ill-informed’

Full of hope: the Bermuda sevens team after a coaching session with Waisale Serevi, the Fijian legend, before their departure to Mexico for last month’s Games

Donna Watson’s scathing assessment of Bermuda’s performance at the Central American and Caribbean Games has not gone down well with some of the Island’s sporting bodies.

Watson, who was chef de mission at last month’s Games, suggested that the majority of athletes involved were ill-prepared and had not taken the event seriously.

From Tyrone Smith, a past gold medal winner in long jump, to the cycling, hockey, and rugby teams, and even the media, none were spared Watson’s fury.

“I feel if we are going to enter these events we need to be committed and be prepared to compete,” Watson said as the event drew to a close. “I feel maybe we did not take this event serious, the athletes, the public, the media and the Government.”

Her damning assessment has angered several members of the sporting community, with Sean Field-Lament, the Bermuda Rugby Football Union president, calling her comments “disingenuous, ill-informed, and unfair”.

“Donna Watson sent that statement to the media without actually talking to any of us, to even get any concept of what she was saying was true,” Jonathan Cassidy, the Bermuda team manager, said.

“She has no idea how much effort Tom [Healy, the rugby coach] has put in, personal time our athletes have put in, guys taking time off work, sacrificing pay and covering their own insurance, and all of these things. For her to say that as the chef de mission of Team Bermuda at the CAC Games is outrageous, nothing [about this situation] offends me more.”

In Watson’s defence, Field-Lament thought that her comments may have been the outburst of “a very passionate Bermudian who is extremely disappointed by a lack of results”.

“[But] To have someone who has no concept of the work and effort that these guys have put in, or what we have done over the years [say that], is disingenuous,” Field-Lament said. “Certainly blanket statements like that, that are not based on the full picture, are unfair, and disingenuous to the men and women who really gave everything to make this a successful trip.

“She’s not been down to one night of [rugby] training, what would she know about effort. She knows nothing about rugby. I put it down to a disappointed, passionate Bermudian, but you’ve got to be able to remove the emotion.”

Field-Lament would not have judged success at the CAC Games by the number of medals won, rather he believes that by just being there in high numbers Bermuda had succeeded.

Peter Dunne, the Bermuda Bicycle Association president, appears inclined to agree with that assessment. Dunne said that there had been no expectation of a podium finish for the cyclists, Dominique Mayho, Zoenique Williams, and Nicole Mitchel.

“We were satisfied with the performances of our athletes at CAC Games,” Dunne said. “They were all legitimate competitors and the BBA had no expectation of podium appearances this time.

“All three of our cyclists are just beginning to compete at this level and there is a great amount of progress to be made by all of them before they can think of medals.

“Each of our athletes came away with a race experience which they can take back to their coaches and develop from there. Also, they did a great job of representing our country as well as the Bermuda Olympic Association. We are appreciative of the work that chef de mission Donna Watson and assistant chef Katura Horton-Perinchief did in making sure that all of the athletes were given quality housing, suitable meals and logistical support in order for them to compete to the best of their abilities.”

The rugby team’s sense of injustice over Watson’s comments was further compounded by what the BRFU felt was a distinct lack of help from the Bermuda Olympic Association regarding player eligibility and funding.

Expected help financially was pulled just two weeks prior to the Games starting, and late replacements for injured players were blocked by BOA officials in Mexico, despite being allowed under CAC rules. In one incident Phillip Guishard, the BOA secretary general who was in Mexico, refused to speak to Cassidy on the phone to help resolve the issues.

Cassidy, subsequently, had to play in the tournament, and such were the team’s problems that they entered one game with only eight fit players, and were unable to field a side for their final match.

“They [the BOA] didn’t support us financially in any significant fashion,” Field-Lament said. “My understanding is that [BOA] officials went down there and had wonderful flights, and nice hotels to stay at, and that’s fine, but really it’s about the athletes.”

Healy added: “If the BOA gave us anything, helped in any way, then we might be on the hook for performance. But the players have given so much financially and otherwise, that it [Watson’s statement] is a bitter pill to swallow.”