Soapbox: Trial By Social Media

This has been driving me insane the last day or so. Trial By Social Media!!!!!! Or in this case Olympic Selection by Social Media.

Floating around on the inter webs a lot of people (especially in the swimming community) are jumping up and down about the ‘unfairness’ of a couple of swimmers missing out on Olympic selection. But before I go into the background of this lets back the truck up a little bit. Lets cover off on some facts.

To go to the Olympics a few things need to occur (lets ignore all the things like hard work, dedication to training, etc…).  Three things need to occur:

Firstly: you need to meet the qualifying standard of the international governing body for your sport; then

Secondly: your national sporting body then nominate you to compete in certain events to the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC); then

Finally: the NZOC confirm your placement in the team.

Lets be honest.  The international qualifying standard isn’t always that high. It’s designed to ensure a wide appeal and that developing countries have got a sort of even playing field to get athletes to the games. In recent years I could have gone to the Olympics in a number of sports by being able to meet the standard.

The New Zealand Olympic team is not going to the Olympics to make up the numbers. As an athlete you need to be able to make the ‘B’ final or make it into the top 16 competitors. This is no secret.

In New Zealand, national sporting bodies don’t nominate athletes that aren’t in a position to do so. There are some exceptions where in an individual sport an athlete may be nominated to be a domestique or to do the hard graft to ensure another athlete has a better chance of gaining a medal (such as cycling or triathlon). So in short if you can’t make the top 16 you are unlikely to get nominated to go to the Olympics, unless you can work selflessly to ensure another competitor can get a medal. Unlike the world championships where national sporting bodies can take who they want for development purposes or some other reason entirely; the Olympic Games are more prestigious and the NZOC sets high standards to go. Actually the NZOC doesn’t have any say in if you go to the world champs or not, but they have the final say if you go to the Olympic Games. Meet their standard or watch the games on TV from your couch.

The key requirement that the NZOC requires to accept a nomination from a sports governing body in New Zealand is that the athlete is likely to finish in the top 16 at their event. Now if someone finishes 19th at the world champs in an Olympic year, then there is a possibility that they could elevate their performance a few months down the track and finish inside the top 16 because they have just finished 19th with all the worlds best swimmers for that event in the race. Sounds plausible and certainly worth the chance.

Now recently a couple of talented New Zealand swimmers who have been trying to qualify for Rio in the Open Water swimming performed well in a close, competitive race and they finally met the FINA standard. Yay, congratulations. There is no sarcasm in this comment.  They have done well and deserve to be congratulated. They have performed far better than I ever have or can hope to do.

But because they met the FINA standard a number of people expected them to be nominated by Swimming NZ for the NZ Olympic team. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? Then throw in some facts such as finishing only 28 seconds behind the current Olympic Champion etc…. paint a picture for readers give a glowing reference for how great the qualified swimmer must be and how competitive he or she is. There is also an invite to a petition to get their lack of nomination overturned. https://www.change.org/o/the_future_of_nz_swimming

BUT, and there is always another side of the story, a lot of facts from this story have been omitted in order to drive up the perceived hardship of these athletes.

Lets talk about a few more of the FACTS and see if you still think they should be nominated for the NZ Olympic Team.

  • Charlotte Webby finished 31st (results here – although other reports say 34th) over 5 minutes behind the winner.
  • Kane Radford finished 19th (results here) – 14 places behind the current Olympic Champion.
  • This is their last chance to qualify, surely they must be in the best form of their life and racing to finish as fast as they possibly can. The Olympics are a one shot at glory, and this is their one last shot at getting that one shot at glory. If for some reason they weren’t on the best form of their life for it, how do we know that they will be on the best form of their life for the Olympics if they can’t peak now.
  • It is no secret that the NZOC require athletes to be capable of finishing in the top 16 at the Olympics.  If they can’t finish in the top 16 of a qualifying race, I’d put money on they aren’t capable of finishing in the top 16 of a bigger race with ALL the worlds top athletes for that event. Both these athletes would have known the expectation to finish in the top 16. If they didn’t they’ve had their head in the sand.
  • Kane finished 19th surely he needs a break.  It is only 3 places isn’t it? Well yes it is, but as this is the last qualifying race, a number of swimmers have already pre-qualified and didn’t need to be there to qualify. Yes, some of the best swimmers were present but not ALL the best swimmers. Add these other swimmers in who have already qualified and that will probably push Kane’s position lower than 19th (especially when they are racing for something such as an Olympic medal).

What are your thoughts now? Should NZ Swimming nominate Kane and Charlotte for the 10km Open Water swim at the Olympics despite clearly not being at the standard demanded by the NZOC?

I’d love to see them both go and finish in the top 16, top 10 and medal. But the reality is that neither of them are likely to finish in the top 16.  If you disagree with me feel free to add a comment below and go sign the petition. If you agree with me, I also encourage you to place a comment below.

This is not an attack at Kane or Charlotte, but a post in support of the NZOC standards and supporting NZ Swimming and their decision NOT to nominate them. I wish both Kane and Charlotte all the best for their future training and racing and hope to watch them compete for New Zealand on the world stage and perform better than ever before, just like I support all other athletes in the same way.

I’d like to point out that at no stage have I seen Kane jumping on social media suggesting he should have been selected or nominated. Just lots of other people suggesting that he should have been.

Other media on the subject:

Read the UPDATE that was written 7 days later here.

http://wp.me/p6ApiZ-L9

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