OPINION: By Roger McMillan
We have received this statement from Yachting Australia (now calling itself Australian Sailing):
The Olympic Nominations Appeals by two 49er FX crews, Tess Lloyd and Caitlin Elks; and Olivia Price and Eliza Solly; for non-nomination of a crew in that class to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection to the 2016 Australian Olympic Team were dismissed by the Australian Sailing Appeal Tribunal this week.
Lloyd and Elks have now lodged an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Australian Sailing has not made comment on this matter until this point, out of respect for the crews and their option to appeal.
In my opinion, although the Australian Sailing Team selectors had the right not to send a crew as neither pairing had achieved the nomination criteria, this is a disgraceful decision based on officals covering their backsides rather than because they thought no crew deserved to go.
The situation goes right back to when Olivia Price decided she wanted to sail with Eliza Solly, who at the time was crew for Tess Lloyd. As an Olympic silver medallist, Price was obviously the favoured skipper for the Rio nomination and the change of crews was quickly facilitated.
I have heard from a source very close to the crews that Solly was promised that she would go to Rio if she made the switch. This is denied by AST management but the non-selection of a young and promising crew who would have gained valuable experience looking forward to Tokyo in 2020 does add weight to the claim. No, they didn't fulfill the criteria. But the selectors had the option to send them as Australia had qualified to compete in the event.
It has been obvious to anyone watching the AST go about their work that Price and Solly had protected status. That was fine when they were consistently the best crew. But after a break because of injury they have never regained their previous form and on the past 12 months results most certainly did not deserve an Olympic spot. In fact they were only the third best Australian crew as Haylee Outteridge and Nina Curtis, who only got back together 12 months ago, also beat Price and Solly at recent major regattas.
But although Price and Solly didn't deserve to be selected, in my opinion Tess Lloyd and Caitlyn Elks certainly did. Lloyd showed her fighting spirit during her comeback from a shocking accident in Brisbane when she was hit in the head by a windsurfer while competing in the 29er and was in a coma for several days. After teaching herself to walk and talk again, she got back in the boat and started working towards her dream of Olympic selection.
When her crew was taken away from her and given to Price, she again buckled down and worked harder. That hard work and her considerable talent has paid dividends and she and Elks have finished just outside the medal races – and automatic Olympic selection – in the Worlds and several World Cup events. I believe their consistent improvement made them a realistic chance of making the medal race at Rio.
But I don't think the non-selection is about Rio. It should be about Tokyo in 2020. Many sailors have shown that they need to attend an Olympics to gain experience before succeeding at the next one. Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge are two cases in recent times who failed at their first Olympics only to totally dominate at the next.
Sending Lloyd and Elks would have been an investment in the future. Now, if they are still the top 49erFX crew in four years and do gain selection for Tokyo, they will be novices instead of returning Olympians. And if Olivia Price regains her mojo and beats Lloyd in the build up to the next Olympics, she already has Olympic experience – it would be a win-win for the Australian team. Either way they would be sending someone who knew what to expect.
Although High Performance Manager Peter Conde can rightly claim that neither crew fulfilled the criteria, and that is the message in the rest of the media release below, I have absolutely no doubt that if Price and Solly had achieved the same results as Lloyd and Elks, they would be on the plane to Rio.
That statement is in no way critical of Price and Solly – the favouritism shown them by senior management is not their fault. But favouritism has been shown and I believe an injustice has been done to two hard-working and talented sailors who deserved better treatment.
I think the Australian Sailing Team is the poorer for not taking Tess Lloyd and Caitlin Elks to Rio.
– Roger McMillan, Editor.
The AST statement continues:
Olympic selection requires the highest standards of our athletes. The nomination criteria set out by Australian Sailing has evolved over the last two Olympic periods. This criteria has delivered success for our sailing team at recent Olympic Games and this has resulted in our sport receiving greater funding and more opportunities to support sailors in our Olympic pathway.
The nomination criteria was provided to all potential Olympic team members before the nomination period, clearly setting the standards required for them to be nominated for inclusion in the Australian Olympic Team. The criteria sets out the performance required, and no crew in the 49er FX and RS:X windsurfing classes achieved the baseline performance.
The nomination criteria also indicates minimum performance standards in specific regattas for the Nomination Panel to consider those who do not achieve a baseline performance. Three athletes who achieved multiple such performances were nominated in the 470 Women and Laser Radial classes. Athletes in the 49erFX and RS:X windsurfing classes did not achieve these performance levels.
Given the challenging conditions our team will face in Rio, it is also the responsibility of the Nomination Panel and Australian Sailing to ensure that those athletes that attend the Olympic Games can be fully supported in order to achieve their best performance for Australia.
All potential team members knew the process and most importantly the high standard required.
Lloyd/Elks and Price/Solly appealed their non-nomination to the Australian Sailing Tribunal. The Tribunal, in considering the appeal, stated the nomination panel gave proper regard to the objective of the Australian Olympic Committee and Australian Sailing in selecting crews that will best represent Australia and give Australia its best chance of success at the 2016 Olympic Games.
The Tribunal found the Nomination Criteria is unambiguous and clearly permitted Australian Sailing not to nominate a crew in the event no Baseline Performance was achieved by an eligible crew in a specific event.
“The Appeal Tribunal finds that the Nomination Panel gave proper, genuine and realistic consideration to the criteria”.
The Tribunal was assembled under the By-Law of the Australian Olympic Committee, was chaired by Zali Steggall OAM, with members Adam Casselden and Olympic sailor Tom King OAM.
Australian Sailing acknowledges the resources and commitment put into Olympic campaigns by athletes and the importance of developing performance sailing.
With the appeals process still underway, no further comment can be made at this stage.