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Rio 2016 - The Qualification Games - Part 2

by Richard Gladwell, on 22 May 2016
London 2012 - Olympic Games Day 3 Carlo Borlenghi/FIV - copyright
Yachting New Zealand's refusal to nominate in three classes won in the first round of 2016 Olympic Qualification is without precedent.

Subject to Appeal, the Kiwis have signaled that they will reject 30% of the positions gained in the ISAF World Sailing Championships in Santander in 2014.

In Spain, they were one of just three sailing nations to qualify in all ten 2016 Olympic events. The other two, France and Great Britain will go to the Rio Olympics with a full hand of cards to play in their medal quest.

Across the Tasman, Yachting Australia is following the Kiwi lead (again subject to Appeal) in a further two classes - one from the first round and the other from the second round of Qualification at the RS:X Women's Worlds in 2015.

At this stage, the only other country to have formally rejected a place is Canada in the Women's 470. They were the 19th ranked qualifier from the North America's qualifier at the Sailing World Cup Miami.

Both Antipodean countries cite 'medal potential' as their criteria for selection of competitors to fill their Olympic slots.

While makes for a great sound bite, the reality is that on average just under 12% of competitors will win Olympic Medals in Sailing.

But that statistic masks the fact that 'Medal Capable' means a different level of performance in different classes/events.

In the 49erFX and 49er, the Medal Capable percentage of competitors is 15% - there being only 20 boats competing in each event.

In the Womens Singlehander (Laser Radial) that percentage drops to 8%. In the Womens Windsurfer (RS:X) the 'Medal Capable' percentage is 11%. The hardest class is the Mens Singlehander (Laser) where 'Medal Capable' is just 6.5%.

In other words because of the increased fleet size in the supplied, or production boat fleets, the Medal Capable percentage drops significantly.

In short it means different things in different classes and is not a consistent across the board standard.

Of course, you could also take the view expressed by Ben Remocker, CEO of the of the 49er class, noted in a recent blog piece on which 49er teams would make the final nomination in various countries, who have multiple crew options:

'The Swedish selection also seems relatively clear, with Sylvan and Anjemark consistently the top team except for a poor 2015 Worlds. The funny thing about the Swedish system is that they also must convince selectors they have ‘medal potential’ in order to be sent.

'It’s an odd phrase, as everyone attending the Olympics has potential for medal, as this is sport, it’s just the odds that change… that’s the optimistic view, but hey, look at Leicester City in the EPL who started the season at 5000-1 underdogs ad will win the title, 'Remocker wrote on the website.

'The contrarian view is that there are no medals left to claim… once Burling/Tuke grab gold and Outteridge/Jensen wrap up silver then there is only 1 medal left, and with Denmark, Britain, Germany, France, Austria, and others right at the top of their game then there is no shot. This sort of ‘qualification factor’ is quite un-Olympian and really Sweden should get out of the habit of trying to make these determinations and just send the teams that have worked so hard!'

The point, of course, is that if all countries followed a 'Medal Capable' mantra as their standard of selection, then the Olympic Sailing Regatta would be a very small event indeed, fought only by the elite competitors in each fleet. In fact, the Regatta would be so small that Sailing as a sport would be lucky to survive into the next Olympics.

Double selection dilemma
There are two situations in Selection.

The first is the obvious one, where there are two or three contenders for the spot, and there are various processes for selecting the final nomination. Alistair Fox, Head of Events for World Sailing notes 'that the customer (NOC/MNAs) want their confirmation to be June 2016 so they can select their best boat/athlete.' Quite understandable.

The other where no Selection is to be made at all.

The general prescription of the International Olympic Committee is very clear in Clause 11 of the Qualification System Principles: 'the qualification system should include the process and timeline for NOC confirmation/rejection of quota places, and the process for the reallocation of unused quota places. This shall be clearly elaborated in each qualification system. In principle, the timeline for notification by NOCs should be within two weeks from the date which qualification was achieved and confirmed by the respective IF.'

While World Sailing is adamant that the Qualification System for Sailing has been approved by the IOC, there is a significant difference in the reallocations process.

Under the World Sailing system, the places for which a country has qualified do not have to be confirmed until June 1, 2016.

That is some 20 months after the end of the Qualifier, yet the IOC's standard is just two weeks.

The reason for the IOC policy is clear and is followed by other boat sports such as Rowing.

The point being that if a place is to be not taken, then it passes to the next country in order in the Qualifier just gone, and that country can then start preparing for the Olympics, and only have lost a couple of weeks training time.

World Sailing's Malcolm Page points out that 'any reallocation that could occur before 22 June occurred immediately. The only possible ones that can be reallocated are the continental qualifiers. Eg, for Oceania, when there was 'no entry’ from Oceania at the continental qualifier event for that class, say the Nacra 17.

'As soon as the entries closed, which is registration day of the Melbourne SWC last December, the reallocation was given to the next nation from the 2015 Nacra Worlds, on that day. As per process.

'We obviously can’t reallocate Santander Worlds yet, because the qualified countries have until 1 June 2016 to confirm their spot. That is why the reallocation occurs on the 22 June', he added.

Outcome same, but different timing

Ironically under both the IOC system and the ISAF system, the outcome is still the same for the Men's RS:X spot vacated by Yachting NZ after JP Tobin won the spot as 10th ranked qualifier in 2014.

Under the IOC system had YNZ declared their hand, as they are obliged to do two weeks after the 2014 event, the place would have been reallocated to the next and 32nd place finisher in Santander, Mateo Lanz (SUI), who had to wait until the 2015 Worlds where he placed 6th overall. He backed that up with a 7th in the 2016 Worlds.

But Lanz is lucky he doesn't live in New Zealand - on the basis of-of his 32nd place he would not have been in the NZL sailing team (which requires a 12th place finish in a Worlds). And the Swiss Windsurfer would have been exiled to the Olympic Wilderness, and told to self-fund to the next Worlds.

But we digress. Lanz got his/SUI's Olympic spot in the 2015 Worlds, where the Boy from Belarus, Mikita Tsirkun (22) placed 40th, and was the next Qualifier. The certainty that he would be going to the Olympics would probably have given him a lot better funding to prepare to achieve the best he could at Rio 2016, and have that turned on in October 2015.

Now he has to wait until June 22, 2016 to find out if he has a place under the ISAF system - six weeks before the Olympics. What use is that?

Fortunately, most of the rejected places are in the singlehanded, supplied equipment classes. But if you are a two-hander, who gets the email nod on June 23, 2016 saying to pack for Rio, there is probably not enough time to get a boat packed, shipped and cleared to the Olympic regatta. Let alone get in some proper racing practice.

The two places released by Yachting Australia and Canada are both event requiring competitors to bring their own boats.

Not surprisingly, the IOC prescription strikes the optimum balance between maintaining the quality of the competition and maximising numbers.

In a 2014 case reported by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, three places at the Winter Olympics were put up for a late reallocation. The places had to go down through three levels of allocation, being declined by five countries, and with the final spot taken by South Korea.

The point here is that the further down the Olympic food chain we go to allocate Olympic places, the lower the standard of the competitor.

On a spreadsheet or results sheet, maybe that doesn't look so bad.

On the water, it looks dreadful, with fleets having a long tail as the gap between the top competitors and those at the lower echelons of the sailing rankings bring up the rear of the fleets, half a leg behind.

The IOC does not like 'Eddie the Eagle' type competitors. They are not a good look for an event which pitches itself as being the ultimate sporting competition on the Planet.

If Sailing is to survive intact as an Olympic sport, it is essential that the standard of competition is kept as high as possible.

Big difference in Competitor funding

Looking again at the case of the Men's RS:X place released by New Zealand under the ISAF/World Sailing system. That place earned by a competitor who finished 7th in the 2012 Olympics.

Under the IOC prescription after reallocation, this place would have gone to Portugal, in October 2014. But under the ISAF system Joao Rodrigues (POR) who placed 30th in that 2014 regatta but had to wait until 2015 to win their place at Rio, off the tail end of the second round.

While that may seem a small distinction, it does make a big difference in a country like Portugal which has only qualified in four of the ten events, and Rodrigues would probably be on a much better level of funding having qualified in the first wave rather than the second.

In other classes, the nuances are more pronounced, with countries which came close to qualifying in 2014, having bad regattas and missing completely in 2015. That situation was compounded by competitors who didn't compete in 2014, coming into the fray in 2015 and placing well.

In the Laser Radial class, the Spanish competitor Martina Reino placed 40th in the 2014 Worlds and missed the cut for a first round place and then 29th in the next Qualification Round at the 2015 Worlds - and top Spanish competitor Alicia Cebrián missed the Rio cut by one place after finishing 22nd in Oman - missing a place at Rio completely.

Under the IOC System, within a fortnight of the finish of the 2014 Worlds, Yachting New Zealand would have been required to confirm to ISAF that YNZ were, or not, going to use the Rio places NZ sailors had gained, within two weeks. If No, then the spots would have been released back for immediate reallocation. There would have been none of this hanging question for another 20 months over the use of the Rio spots by Kiwi competitors. Same with the Australians.

In fact as far back as June 2015, the three spots now declined by Yachting New Zealand were listed only as 'Likely' status in ISAF documents showing the 2016 Qualification process. World Sailing confirmed to Sail-World that Information for the Qualification Status comes from the MNA's (Member National Associations) themselves, and is not just a finger in the wind exercise in the ISAF office.

Of course in other sports who are following the IOC base Qualification System, they and their competitors know that as soon as they meet the qualifying standard, their country only has to confirm within two weeks (or less) that the spot will be taken, and they can put their eyes on Rio.

For sailors, the wait is 20 months, and then they even might not be sent - even though they are in the top ten countries because Selectors are making a very subjective call on the basis of 'Medal Capable'.

The message being sent to upcoming talent in the 'medal capable' countries is not exactly encouraging. The selection bar has been set high, extremely high.

Sail Port Stephens 2022 FOOTER38 South - Sun Fast 3300 - FOOTER - Sept2021Webasto AUS 2020 FOOTER 1

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