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Gladwell's Line - Another day, another Olympic selection decision

by Richard Gladwell, on 29 Jun 2016
Not required for Rio 2016. Tessa LLoyd and Caitlin Elks (AUS) 49erFX - Sailing World Cup Melbourne, December 2013 Richard Gladwell
The Olympic non-selection issues continued to generate heat on both sides of the Tasman, and now further afield.

In Australia, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has handed down its Decision without providing reasons after a week of deliberation on the non-selection of their top crew in the 49erFX Women's skiff.

The reasons are expected to be much the same as two decisions previously given by the Sports Disputes Tribunal in New Zealand - that the policy of Australian Sailing/Yachting New Zealand is drafted in such a way that the two national authorities provide themselves with huge discretion in the selection choices.

The outcomes of the applications of these policies are well known.

They provide small teams of supposedly medal capable sailors - so that the sailors and coaches who go to the Olympic venue are not encumbered with sailors who are there for the joy of competing in the Olympics.

Yesterday in ocean swimming another two refusals to nominate were adjudicated by the Sports Disputes Tribunal. In this instance, the Hearings were conducted by Dr. Jim Farmer QC, one of New Zealand's well known and accomplished keelboat sailors, who is also deputy Chairman of the Sports Disputes Tribunal. Sitting with him was Georgina Earl perhaps better known as double Olympic Gold Medalist Georgina Evers-Swindell.

In a quick read of the Decision handed down in respect of one of the athletes, and without having researched the background of the two competitors, this Panel appears to have taken quite an enlightened approach to the issue of very tight selection criteria. The Panel required the selectors to look beyond the result itself and consider any extenuating factors which may have affected the performance. Further, the selectors were also required to look beyond the benchmark events specified in the policy to determine whether the athlete was capable of a top 16 performance. They were also required to put proper weight on the opinion of coaches and others qualified to assess potential performance.

With those issues on the table, they returned the case to the original Selectors, who changed their non-nomination decision in respect of one of the swimmers.

For those interested in the Decision it can be read by clicking here

The CAS decision in Australia was evaluated against the Australian Olympic Committee's nomination policy for sailing at Rio 2016. This policy is a public document free for all to read and access in contrast to the Yachting NZ selection policy which is confidential (aside from the section later published by the Sports Disputes Tribunal as part of their Decision).

In Australia, the bar is set even high than New Zealand with a top six in World Championships being required for those who are being considered in the 'medal capable' category. Those looking to be selected on the 'medal potential' criteria for 2016 or 2020 Olympics must have finished in the top ten countries in world championships. (There are further sub-criteria in the seven-page document which can read by clicking here)

The point is what happens next - both Australia and New Zealand have managed to chop their teams down to entries in just seven of the ten events at the Olympic Sailing Regatta in Rio. New Zealand had qualified in all ten events but have dropped three. Australia qualified in nine events and will be represented in just seven as well.

Many don't subscribe to this tight team approach - pointing out that it doesn't take into account the random performance a crew with good pedigree can almost come from apparent nowhere to win a Medal.

Writing in the latest Seahorse magazine, 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Rod Davis - a former HP Director of Yachting NZ tells how he and crew Don Cowie were virtual unknowns in the Star class going into the 1992 Olympics, but found their mojo in the regatta, and won the Silver medal.

Every Olympics has several performances where the form-book has been thrown away, as Neville Nobodies find form and turn in an exceptional performance. Equally the hot favorites for medals have a disastrous first day in the Olympic regatta, and never recover. Others come under exceptional pressure, respond in an outstanding way and find themselves standing on the Olympic podium at the end of the week.

You won't see those outcomes on a pre-Olympic spreadsheet.

The what happens next is now playing out in the depths of the Olympic Sailing microsite. There all the countries who have qualified are listed and whether they have accepted their 2016 Olympic place or not. The spreadsheet got updated today with a couple of new categories for those who had been offered the places rejected by others like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Sweden. (Canada rejected as many Olympic qualification places as New Zealand, but went one better and rejected a reallocated place, too. They will compete in Rio with a six boat team, instead of ten based on places they have won or were offered by World Sailing). Sweden declined two reallocated places and one Qualified place.

The overall effect is for a lowering of the standard of the Olympic competition in Sailing. While other sports such as Golf are lamenting the top players who are refusing to participate at Rio, Sailing seems to turning this Olympic rejection into and art-form.

Most of the places which are not spoken for are snapped up by the European countries - so their domination of the fleets continues - which was a concern in the 2010 Olympic Commission report commissioned by the then ISAF which set the blueprint for the regional qualification system put in place for Rio.

Where the Antipodeans miss the boat is that they don't seem to realise that it takes eight years to get up to top ten overall standard in the Laser, Laser Radial, and Windsurfer classes. By not selecting in these classes - even young up and coming sailors instead of those who qualified for the spot - the Antipodeans just make it that much harder to get anyone to put together a serious Olympic campaign for 2020 in these classes which are complete one-designs with big fleets and intense competition. To get to the top ten requires a lot of hard work on very fine sailing points and to be mentally able to take the knocks of the occasional bad regatta which seems to be endemic in these four classes.

The reality is that the bar in these four classes is set at a higher level than just making the top ten in 2020 Worlds. The reality is that if qualification timetables stay the same for 2020 as they were for the 2016 Olympics, then the first round of Qualification will be in 2018 - two years away.

That is a long ladder to climb if you are only just on the first few rungs in August 2016.


This story was first published in Sail-World NZ's newsletter

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