High Court suggests mediation for Fiji Swimming and Vakasama

Taichi Vakasama competes in the mens 200m breaststroke during the Longcourse Open Nationals Swimming competition at the Olympic Pool in Suva on Friday, May 05, 2023. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU/FILE

The High Court in Lautoka has suggested that Fiji Swimming and one of Fiji’s top swimmer athlete, Taichi Vakasama resort to mediation in order to resolve an impasse between them.

On November 5, 2022, the secretary of Fiji Swimming had served Vakasama a letter signed by the president for and on behalf of the parent body.

The letter documented, and conveyed to Vakasama, a decision by Fiji Swimming to suspend Vakasama from all local and international swimming competitions, pending proof that Vakasama is mentally fit to resume those competitions.

“It appears that the events or facts which led Fiji Swimming to the decision to suspend Vakasama happened a few months earlier in July 2022 during the Commonwealth Games which was held in Birmingham, England. In the statement of claim, the plaintiffs plead that during the Commonwealth Games, Vakasama was feeling immense stress and was sick,” stated Justice Anare Tuilevuka in his May 24 ruling.

“As a result of these, he was not in any position to compete in his scheduled events at the Games. After consulting the secretary, and other Fiji swimmers at the Games, Vakasama then made the decision to withdraw from his events.

“According to Vakasama, before the decision to withdraw was conveyed to the Games officials, he (Vakasama) and the Secretary of Fiji Swimming did visit a medical practitioner at the Polyclinic in Birmingham who recommended in writing (“Birmingham medical report”) that Vakasama withdraw from his Commonwealth Games swim events as he was “mentally unwell”.

“As it turned out, four (4) months later, back in Fiji, Fiji Swimming would make the decision to suspend Vakasama from all local and international swimming competitions, pending proof that Vakasama is mentally fit to resume those competitions.”

Vakasama told the court he wanted to take part in the World Swimming Championships that will be held in Japan in July 2023.

“Vakasama wishes to compete internationally. It appears to me that Fiji Swimming wants the same thing. All that Fiji Swimming requires is that Vakasama complies with the stipulations for the selection criteria which includes inter alia that Vaksama attend a Fiji Swimming medical and be certified as medically fit (physically, mentally and emotionally) by a clinical professional and that he fulfills the “team commitments”.

“Suffice it to say that, from where I sit, the selection criteria which Fiji Swimming is adhering to — are not at all “arbitrary conditions” designed to specifically target Vakasama. Rather, they apply to all swimmers who wish to compete for Fiji at the Fukuoka Championship.

“While I note that Vakasama is anxious that a further psychiatric assessment might result in a stigma which may be hard to erase and overcome in years to come, I do not see how completing one as part of the selection criteria can have that effect.

“I say this on the belief that other swimmers hopeful for a spot in Team Fiji will be subject to the same requirements.

“It appears to me that all that Fiji Swimming is saying to Vakasama is — ‘you fulfill the selection criteria, and we will lift the suspension and consider you for the Fukuoka Championship’.”

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