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Rio 2016 - Yachting New Zealand defends Olympic selection practices

by on 9 Jun 2016
Sara Winther sailing at the 2012 Olympic Regatta in Weymouth onEdition
Yachting New Zealand has responded to wide-spread international criticism of its selection practices and criticism by the Chairman of the NZ Sports Disputes Tribunal, Sir Bruce Robertson of the way it treated two Olympic sailors after they had qualified New Zealand for the 2016 Olympic sailing regatta at the ISAF World Sailing Championships in santander in September 2014.

Despite qualifying in ten Olympic classes and three Paralympic classes, New Zealand will only be represented in seven Olympic classes and one Paralympic class in the Rio Olympics in August 2016. Appeals were lodged with the Sports Disputes Tribunal in respect of the Womens Windsurfer (RS:X) and Womens Singlehander (Laser Radial), a third competitor in the Mens Windsurfer (RS:X) exited the YNZ program after funding disputes in 2015. An SDT Appeal was prepared but withdrawn just before the Hearing in respect of one of the Paralympic classes.

The Sports Disputes Tribunal decision written by Sir Bruce, a former Judge of the Court of Appeal said:

'While the selection policy is drafted to provide huge discretion to YNZ, this does not obviate its obligations to abide by the rules of natural justice and to ensure basic fairness in its implementation. In particular, athletes in contention for nomination should be aware of what information they are being judged by and be given a reasonable opportunity to provide feedback on this. I am not sure the athletes were given this opportunity or that the individual circumstances of the athletes in question and how they would perform at the Rio Olympics venue were adequately assessed in arriving at their decisions.'

'Selectors and national sporting organisations must be constantly vigilant to ensure that processes are inclusive and transparent. Sailors (and all other athletes) must be fully aware of what is being considered and have proper opportunity to challenge and respond.'

'Individuals must never be just widgets in a machine like process. They are invariably women or men who have given their all to achieve participation at the pinnacle of their sport. While there must be consistency of approach and realism about limited resources the need for sensitive and sensible communication at all times cannot be minimised.'

The statement by Yachting NZ reads:

In May Yachting New Zealand announced collectively with the New Zealand Olympic Committee, that a team of 12 sailors had been selected to represent New Zealand in seven events at Rio 2016.

Subsequently, two athlete appeals were lodged with the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand and both have now been resolved.

Yachting New Zealand acknowledges the importance of an objective, bias-free, selection process and is pleased that our selection decision has been confirmed by the Sports Tribunal. A prompt resolution was important for all parties, including the travelling team and supporters.

“We are excited about the prospects for the seven classes going to Rio 2016,”says David Abercrombie, Yachting New Zealand Chief Executive. “Our selections are on a performance based approach which is producing medals – New Zealand has collected more than 20 podium finishes each year in 2014 and 2015 across the Sailing World Cup, Eurosaf Regattas, World Championships and Rio Test Event regattas.”

“We are reviewing Sir Bruce Robertson’s full report and will take on board all of his comments. We are always looking for improvement especially with specific aspects of our communication with athletes.”

The ultimate goal of our High Performance Programme and the NZL Sailing Team is to win Olympic medals at Rio 2016, and Tokyo 2020 beyond that. This goal aligns with the goal of High Performance Sport New Zealand, our partner providing substantial funding for our programme.

Yachting New Zealand has finite resources to run our High Performance Programme as we look to maintain our position as a multi-medal winning sport. High Performance Sport New Zealand’s support of yachting is generous but Yachting New Zealand cannot fund all Olympic aspirants to campaign over the full four year cycle.

No sailing campaign is fully funded by Yachting New Zealand and all our athletes must commit to part funding their own campaigns.

“Preparing athletes for the Olympic Games is a direct cost to Yachting New Zealand, we are grateful for the support we receive from High Performance Sport New Zealand and we are fiscally responsible,” says Abercrombie.

“We believe high expectations drive high performance and world-class results,” says Abercrombie.

We use performance tracking data to prioritise and direct resources into campaigns that can demonstrate they are on track to win Olympic medals.

Abercrombie says, “Yacht racing can’t be judged on time and distance. Many factors influence a result. This is why we use statistical analysis as an objective part of our selection process. We have tracked the results of 93 Olympic sailing medallists across 651 pinnacle events over three Olympiads in every class and from this experience we have a very firm view on exactly what people have to achieve in order to medal. Yachting New Zealand supports those athletes who are on track and in form.”

Our High Performance Department works closely with each of the NZL Sailing Team athletes to agree personalised campaign plans, including performance criteria and pinnacle regattas. Athletes are required to demonstrate commitment and to follow their agreed campaign plan.

Yachting New Zealand Olympic Selection Policy is not made public, but is made available to actively campaigning sailors early in the four-year cycle providing plenty of opportunity for athletes to request clarification on any part of the selection criteria if they require it.

Yachting New Zealand supports all classes in the initial two years of the Olympic cycle with the aim of securing national Olympic qualification. This provides athletes a period of time to post significant results to justify further investment in the second half of the cycle, and we work closely with athletes to agree and regularly review performance targets, regatta plans, coaching and training programmes.

From that point in the cycle, campaign funding and support becomes more results focused so that budgetary constraints can be met.

“Some countries target a few athletes or classes and support these but we feel there is a risk to the sport in taking this approach,” explains Abercrombie. “We provide all classes with good support in the first two years to help them perform and as the Olympics approach we target those who have demonstrated that they are medal capable.”

“Athletes who consistently obtain top results are more likely to medal. Notwithstanding that they will have the occasional glitches but will focus on pinnacle events and use other events to test gear and develop skills.”

Sustainability and pathway development is a critical part of Yachting New Zealand’s High Performance Programme. Where possible we build depth through training partners that will provide back up and sustainable performance beyond the forthcoming Olympic Games.

We have a great team – we have a diverse and collaborative group of coaches and advisors who are committed to the long-term development of our athletes. We have a strong partnership with High Performance Sport New Zealand and we invest in IP and technology which helps developing athletes such as the Aon Fast Track Squad which supports talented and up and coming athletes into world class and Olympic competition.

Several other countries have subscribed to the same 'medal capable' selection mantra that is at the heart of their decisions not to select competitors in the events for which the countries have qualified.

In the instance of countries who Qualified in September 2014, it is only in the last few weeks that these places have been released when the Member National Authorities have to confirm to World Sailing by June 1 that they will be taking their place.

Other sports, such as Rowing require that confirmation be made within two weeks of the Qualifying event. If the place is declined it is reallocated to the next eligible competitor from the event. However in Sailing because the places are not reallocated until June 22, 2016 in some classes there is not enough time left to ship a boat to the Olympics, and it is expected that these cases, the places will be blotted up in the Laser and Laser Radial classes where the equipment is all supplied.

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