The British Olympic Association is considering the unprecedented step of forcing GB Taekwondo to select Aaron Cook, the world No1, after he was rejected for Olympic selection for a third time on Wednesday.
The BOA will discuss the case on Thursday after Cook was said to be considering all legal options by his representatives, who described the decision as “an embarrassment” and “a disgrace”.
GB Taekwondo’s selection panel met on Wednesday morning after being told by the BOA to reconsider its decision to select Lutalo Muhammad, ranked 104th in the world in the -80kg category, in favour of Cook. However, the five-strong panel again nominated Muhammad and the BOA said it would consider its next move after its Olympic qualification standards panel – comprising including the chef de mission, Andy Hunt, and the deputy chefs de mission, Sir Clive Woodward and Mark England, and the athletes commission chair, Sarah Winckless – had spoken.
The panel’s meeting broke up on Wednesday night without a decision and they will reconvene on Thursday. They are considering the minutes of the selection meeting, which was observed by a BOA lawyer.
“The key thing is, have they followed the process we prescribed?” said Hunt. “We spent a lot of time over the last week making sure we had a procedure in place that we could be entirely satisfied presented a fair opportunity for both athletes to be properly represented and for a voting procedure that was appropriate and gave all members of the panel the chance to vote.”
Having taken legal advice, one option believed to be open to the BOA is to force GB Taekwondo to select Cook. The Olympic Charter makes clear that in “exceptional circumstances” a national Olympic committee can intervene in selection matters.
However, BOA insiders also recognise that would be a huge step to take, given the ramifications for other sports and athletes and the possible impact on its Games preparations. It would probably be challenged by GB Taekwondo at the court of arbitration for sport.
Cook said he was “disappointed but not surprised” at the verdict of GB Taekwondo. “This is an embarrassment not only for the sport of taekwondo internationally but also for Great Britain’s reputation in hosting the London 2012 Games,” his representative said.
“If the British No1 and reigning European champion does not compete, it will be a national disgrace which the world’s media will highlight. We remain committed to overturning this flawed recommendation.”
Cook severed ties with GB Taekwondo’s world-class performance programme last year – leading to suspicions that his non-selection was politically motivated.
That suggestion has been vigorously rejected by the GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall, who argues that changes to the way head shots are scored make Muhammad a better medal bet than Cook, who came fourth in Beijing as a 17-year-old.
“That has never been in the consideration. The selection procedure is very clear – we don’t care where you work, we’re there to get the best set of medals for Team GB,” said Hall last week, after the BOA rejected Muhammad’s nomination.
Prior to the meeting of the selection panel, Cook’s camp released a statement in which they confirmed he had written to the BOA chairman Lord Moynihan, copying in the sports minister Hugh Robertson, over the decision. He also sympathised with Muhammad and criticised those who had sent him hate mail.
“We have always stated that we see Lutalo’s involvement in this mess as being a direct result of the decision by the Performance Team of British Taekwondo to recommend Lutalo for selection – wrongly in our opinion,” it said.
“Like Aaron, Lutalo is also a victim. Lutalo is an athlete of immense promise for the future. We have only ever discussed facts. Lutalo’s record as a Taekwondo athlete in the Olympic category of -80kg does not compare to Aaron’s.
“Aaron has beaten seven of the Top 15 of his Olympic rivals in their most recent fights and lost to one, whilst Lutalo has not beaten any of them. Aaron is ranked No1 in the World and Olympic Rankings because he is the best Taekwondo athlete at his weight class in the world. These are all facts, not opinion.”
But there is a high degree of irritation among the governing body’s staff at what they see as interference by the BOA into performance issues. They insist Muhammad’s selection can be justified on performance grounds.
GB Taekwondo had been keen to underline that Joseph Salim, its coach in the under 80kg category, did not have a vote and left the room while they were cast. “I don’t want to prejudge it. Was it a fair process? Did both athletes get fair representation? Having looked at that, we’ll then look at all other aspects of it,” said Hunt. He insisted that it was not the BOA’s job to select athletes, but said the panel would stop at nothing to ensure a fair process.
“That is absolutely down to the governing body. We are not experts in taekwondo, but we have been challenging to say the least in making sure we are comfortable with the process. I can’t say any more until I have seen the paperwork.”
Source: The Guardian