Olympic qualification perils
In the quest for London 2012 Dutch gymnasts seek justice and successfully challenge premature Olympic selection in court.
Every four years as the Olympics are approaching the national sport federations have the daunting task of deciding which athletes will get the chance to represent their country. In 2008 qualification decisions in judo and canoe slalom were challenged by the non-selected athletes. In the quest for London 2012 it is the sport of gymnastics which is at the centre of attention in the Netherlands.
Earlier this year, after the results of the Olympic Test Event in January lead to the Netherlands being allotted only a single Olympic spot in both men’s and women’s gymnastics, the Royal Dutch Gymnastics Federation (KNGU) named Epke Zonderland and Wyomi Masela as its Olympians. Two cases were brought before the Zuthphen court in which the gymnasts Jeffrey Wammes and Celine van Gerner challenged the Olympic selection of their rivals.
In the men’s saga, both athletes have met the Olympic qualifying criteria. But since Zonderland’s qualifying results were obtained in 2011 he still has to prove readiness in 2012 whereas Wammes met the readiness requirement at the Test Event. Nevertheless, the KNGU gave Zonderland, twice world championship silver medalist on the high bar, the only Dutch ticket for the games after he beat Wammes at the Test Event under the condition that he still had to prove readiness at a selected competition.
The women’s selection procedure was complicated by an injury to Van Gerner. The top Dutch competitor in the last few years also obtained an Olympic nomination in 2011, meaning that she too needed to prove readiness in 2012. Unfortunately, Van Gerner needed surgery for a fractured foot after the World Championships in October and was unable to compete at the Test Event. With the selection of Masela, Van Gerner was not given the chance to prove readiness this spring.
In both cases the court ruled that the selection of the athletes, Zonderland and Masela respectively, was premature. The KNGU did not accurately follow its own selection procedures by already selecting the athletes before the competitions where readiness was to be shown had even taken place. Nevertheless, the court considered that with regard to the competition results from Zonderland and Masela the decisions of the KNGU were not unreasonable, just premature. The federation now has to wait for results from the upcoming European Championships and two World Cup competitions.
The decision of who to select as an Olympian should be left to the sports federation or national team coach as they are best equipped to predict which athlete has the best medal prospects. That said, regarding the decision of who will get to represent his or her country at the Olympic Games - the biggest most important competition of an athlete’s career - the federation should give all eligible athletes an equal opportunity to qualify. It is unfortunate that the sloppy application of the rules by the federation is distracting the gymnasts from their preparation. But whether Wammes and Van Gerner make it to the Olympics or not, at least they did everything in their power to get there.