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Selection process limits Olympic ideal - July-12-12
Source: The Times - Law
The scandal around the women’s’ 800m event reveals gaps in the process and makes fairness a hard goal to achieve
In 1894 Baron Pierre de Coubertin established the International Olympic Committee and indoctrinated all future games with the Olympic ideals such as competition not being about the winning but the taking part.
This mantra has since been repeated at sports events worldwide and presumably by consoling parents at those school sports days that retain some semblance of competition.
The reality, however, is that Eddie the Eagle aside, there has to be a limit on entrance to the games and standards that would-be Olympians have to meet to be able to compete. This is for practical purposes as well as to uphold the quality and legitimacy of the competition.
So qualification standards have been imposed across all events, and none more so than in athletics. Those that qualify can then be considered for selection to their national teams.
The qualifying times and standards are known in advance and athletes dedicate their lives to obtaining them. They know the criteria they must satisfy and if not selected after meting them, at least they know that they were properly considered.
But this year, for four female 800m runners, this was not the case.
Jemma Simpson, Jenny Meadows, Marilyn Okoro and Emma Jackson had all run below the Olympic “A” qualifying time of 1.59.90 in the qualification period starting on May 1, 2011. All knew that come July 2 this year, UK Athletics (UKA) could pick up to three of them for the London Olympic Games.
All four have achieved considerable success in this event and dedicated their lives to training and competing in it. In June of 2012 another athlete, Lynsey Sharp, burst to prominence by winning the UK Olympic Trials ahead of Jemma Simpson. She went on to win the silver medal at the European Championships prior to Olympic selection.
But Sharp had not run below the Olympic “A” qualifying time; only the slower “B” standard. Under the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules as the UKA perceived them to be, if they selected her then they could not select any other athlete to compete alongside her.
The selection panel opted for this route and so Simpson, Meadows, Okoro and Jackson missed out on their Olympic dream.
The basis of their decision lies within the UKA selection criteria drafted to incorporate the IAAF qualification system policy. Paragraph 5 of the UKA selection policy indicates that the number of athletes that can be entered for any event is set by IAAF rules and that:
(a) In an individual discipline up to three athletes holding “A” standards may be entered; or (b) One athlete holding a “B” standard may be entered (provided that no “A” standard athletes are entered).
In fact the IAAF did not include the phrase in brackets but the UKA addition reflects a literal interpretation of the IAAF regulations. At first glance it makes some sense but on further analysis of the UKA selection policy there is a gaping hole in the logic.
In 2009 Jenny Meadows won the Bronze medal at the World Championships in Berlin. Had this been two years ago and she finished in the top two at the UK trials, as she did in 2011, she would have automatically been entered.
Alternatively Marilyn Okoro and Emma Jackson have beaten the current “A” standard this year and would have received automatic nomination had they placed at the UK trials.
If UKA is correct and the IAAF does not wish for “A” and “B” runners to compete alongside each other in the same team; then in these scenarios, Lynsey Sharp would not be eligible for selection despite her recent success. But any two of Simpson, Okoro, Jackson or Meadows would be.
It seems that the UKA has fettered its own discretion in selecting the athletes for the Olympics. Worse, in the present case, it has even limited how many athletes it can select and therefore adversely affected the chances of success at the games.
Nobody has stated that had there been a straight choice between all five athletes then only Sharp would have been selected. That it is clearly not the case. Therefore four dedicated athletes were not considered for selection for the Olympics, not because they were not good enough , but because of a perverse but literal interpretation of the IAAF rules. That is unfair on those athletes and on Great Britain’s chances of success.
Of course the circumstances of the events leading up to the selection of the 800m athletes were extremely rare. Those that had made the qualifying time were either recovering from injury or not performing as well as they had. Lynsey Sharp was winning and winning well.
For any outside observer there is a lingering sense of injustice in relation to the selection of the women’s 800m athletes for the 2012 Olympics. No criticism can be levelled at Lynsey Sharp but it appears, if the UKA’s interpretation is correct, that the IAAF has forced the selectors into an impossible position and removed a large part of their selection discretion from them.
She deserved to be picked but the four athletes who missed out deserved the opportunity to be properly considered too. They did everything asked of them, achieved the “A” standard qualification time only to have their chance snatched away from them by virtue of a poorly drafted and ill-considered regulation.
A final word for Jemma Simpson. She was second in the British Olympic Trials, as Usain Bolt was in the Jamaican. She is returning from injury and is peaking at the right time for the Olympics, hopefully so is Bolt. In the years leading up to the Olympics she dreamt of nothing else but representing her country at her home games.
She made the qualifying standard asked of her by the IAAF and therefore deserved to be considered on the basis of her performances alone. She may not hold the world record or have won the last Olympics but she is higher ranked in the world than Jonny Marray was when he went on to win at Wimbledon. In any event surely the most important thing about the Olympic Games is the taking part? Apparently not for the IAAF.
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