COC standards not up to snuffCanada's top athletes may fail to qualify for Athens Olympic team, Steve Buffery writes
By STEVE BUFFERY, TORONTO SUN
The Canadian Olympic Committee has a reputation for being insensitive, inflexible ... a sleeping elephant. But of enough of its good qualities.
In imposing its qualifying standards on Canadian athletes attempting to compete at this summer's Athens Games, the COC should consider this one point:
If the current qualifying standards were in place four years ago, Simon Whitfield would not have competed for Canada at the Sydney Olympics. And can you imagine how dismal the Sydney Games would have been for the Canadian team if not for Whitfield's inspiring gold-medal performance in the triathlon?
Heading into Sydney, Whitfield was ranked 13th in the world. Fortunately, at that time, the COC's qualifying standards were based on being ranked in the top 16 in the world in order to qualify for Olympic Games. They've been tightened up now. In order to qualify for Athens, Canadian athletes have to be ranked in the top 12 in the world.
That is causing extreme anguish for a number of deserving Canadian athletes and Canadian sports federations.
In at least two sports, Canadian athletes have met international federation standards and International Olympic Committee standards to compete in Athens. But because these athletes have not met Canadian Olympic Committee standards, they are being prevented from competing in Athens. Greg Mathieu, executive director of the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association, has no stake in the current qualifying controversy between the COC and a group of Canadian athletes, such as boxers, attempting to compete in Athens. You could say that he's neutral in this debate.
Canadian wrestlers did well enough in Sydney to merit a slightly different set of qualifying standards for Athens. Mathieu said because his wrestling team did well in Sydney, Canadian wrestlers could qualify for Athens if they met international amateur wrestling federation standards.
But the results in Sydney were not as good for the boxing and table tennis and, as a result, Canadian athletes in those sports now have to prove to the COC that they are ranked in the top 12 in the world -- even if they have met the qualifying standards set by their international federation and the IOC.
The boxing team had only qualified two fighters for Athens prior to the final qualifying tournament in Rio de Janeiro two weeks ago. In Rio, three Canadian boxers finished first or second and, in doing so, met the International Amateur Boxing Association standard for Athens.
But guess what? The COC has said they won't be able to go because, prior to the Rio tournament, Canadian boxers, other than the two who had previously qualified, had proven to the COC that they are not ranked in the top 12 in the world. As of now, the COC does not recognize the Rio results. The COC and Canadian boxing federation are still in negotiations.
TOUGHER GO OF IT
This point should also be made. Sprinters and boxers and wrestlers have a much tougher go of it at international competitions, including Olympic qualifying tournaments, than swimmers, canoeists and yachtsmen because there are many more countries that compete in those sports at a high level. Poor countries will enter quality sprinters and boxers at an Olympic Games. Poor countries don't have a lot of swimmers or quality yachtsmen.
The COC should take that into consideration when setting up top 12 standards. It's tougher for a boxer to earn a top 12 world ranking than a yachtsman. Not to take anything away from the yachtsman, but that's just the way it is. Mathieu said that he understands why the COC would impose tough standards for Olympic Games, but he believes that any athlete who meets international standards should be able to compete at the Olympics.
"We're not talking about a lot of people here, a few boxers, shooters, some athletes from table tennis. Maybe 15-20 athletes," Mathieu said.
"We're going through all of this debate and acrimony over 15-20 athletes?
The bottom line is this. If a Canadian doesn't get to go to Athens, an athlete from another country will take his place."
Mathieu believes there is something fundamentally wrong with the COC locking horns with Canadian athletes and sport federations prior to every Olympics.
"I don't think in this day and age, given how tough it is to qualify for Olympic Games, that the COC can make a strong argument for keeping Canadian athletes off the team -- athletes that have met international standards," Mathieu said.
You never know. There may be another Simon Whitfield out there, struggling to prove to the COC that they deserve to go to Athens.