Alan Hubbard: What we have now is unseemly bickering over selection processes that bedevils Team GB at the worst possible time
Tuesday, 05 June 2012
The BOA's intervention in rightly refusing to allow British Wrestling to impose their gaggle of grapplers imported from Eastern Europe on 2012 and ordering GB Taekwondo to twice re-think the controversial omission from the Olympic squad of world number one welterweight Aaron Cook, who had elected to prepare outside their system, reflects growing concern over the administration of a number of publicly-funded sports as they finalise their Games nominations.
The selection process in fencing, where there have been allegations of favouritism (one of the fencers nominated for a host nation wild-card place, though lowly-ranked, is related to a leading sponsor of the sport) has also been questioned.
With appeals and threats of legal action from disaffected competitors, and embarrassing spats of mud-slinging, it is a scenario Britain could do without as the Olympic countdown quickens.
The most worrying case is that of Cook whose sport has been progressively successful. Yet he seems to have been given the sort of kick in the teeth he is more used to inflicting on opponents.
Three times now he has been knocked back by GB Taekwondo's five-person selection panel in favour of a Lutalo Muhammad, a fellow European champion but less experienced and lower-ranked globally than Cook, and from a different weight category.
At the time of writing Cook (pictured above) is expressing his understandable anger and astonishment, and the BOA considering just how much further their Olympic qualification standards panel can go in questioning GB Taekwondo's motives.
They may well have run out if ammunition.
GB Taekwondo insists its decision is not biased or politically motivated as Cook is no longer under its high performance aegis, having decided the system was not working for him.
They argue that changes to the way head shots are scored make Muhammad a better medal bet than Cook, who, in Beijing, came fourth as a 17-year-old but latterly has believed the most viable 2012 path for him was to go it alone.
That was his prerogative, and judged by his results he has been proved right.
But GB Taekwondo's high command obviously think otherwise, obviously making a choice which has shocked many not least the bookies, who had made Cook 3-1 favourite to win gold in London.
William Hill spokesman told insidethegames that rejecting Cook "is the equivalent of leaving out Sir Chris Hoy".
Well, that might be overstating it a bit, but you get the point.
Cook clearly had an outstanding chance of standing atop the Olympic podium. Has Muhammad (pictured above, left)?
Now I have a lot of time for taekwondo as a sport and the success it has achieved in Britain under performance director Gary Hall (who is understood to have wanted Cook in the squad). But I believe his co-selectors have got this one wrong big-time, and that the argument is as unconvincing as England manager Roy Hodgson's "for footballing reasons" as to why Rio Ferdinand has been left behind for the 2012 European Championship.
Wubbish Woy. Ferdinand is unwanted as you fear disharmony in the dressing room because of Rio's ongoing differences with John Terry over the alleged racist comments made to his brother.
Personally, I would have taken Rio rather than Terry both for footballing reasons and the fact that the Chelsea captain has forfeited the right to wear the England shirt despoiled by his past misdemeanours off the pitch.
What we have now as the Olympics approach is unseemly bickering over selection processes that bedevils Team GB at the worst possible time
Our sporting history that those who wear the blazers or even the tracksuits, are wary of rebels in their midst.
They do not know how to handle them. Then renegade runner David Bedford (pictured above) was a good example of this. So was Gazza.
The guvnors are uncomfortable when someone succeeds out of The Establishment, and drawbridges are hauled up.
At best GB Taekwondo has shown incredible naivety in assuming its action would not be interpreted as an injustice.
Whether it is also deemed to be illogical and unfair, or at worst, prejudiced, may well be for the BOA to determine, or eventually the courts if Cook decides, as is the sporting vogue, to enlist the assistance of m'learned friends.
It will be a tragedy for taekwondo, indeed all Olympic sports in this country should litigation become necessary.
Far better, as Cook suggests, to let him and Muhammad have a fight-off on the mat.
There are precedents for this, not least in amateur boxing.
Personally, I think that a lad who trains in his garage, without the benefit of public funding, and becomes the world number one and favourite for Olympic gold is what Olympism all about – or used to be before vested interests and conforming to the 'system' took over.
I rest my case.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire