December 08, 2005

Dumbed-Down Olympic Selection

The Canadian Olympic Committee held a board meeting a couple of weekends ago. Among other items on the agenda, they approved new Olympic selection criteria:

At the meeting, the COC Board … voted strongly in favour of using International Federation qualification criteria as the minimum standard for nomination to the 2008 Canadian Olympic Team. Similar to existing criteria for the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games, each summer National Sport Federation has the right to require selection standards for its athletes that are higher than International Federation criteria.

What this means is that the COC will not place any explicit restrictions on qualification for the summer Olympics in 2008; if your IF says that you're good enough, then you will be part of the team. I am surprised that I have not seen much about this in the press, since the very tough "Top 12" selection standard got a lot of negative coverage in 2004. A Google News search turned up a single piece by Alison Korn at, a publication that was particularly critical of the Top 12 criteria.

Some of you will have heard my diatribes on this issue before. A year ago I laid out my arguments in favour of tough selection criteria. One of the most common arguments against tough standards is that they stifle development of up-and-coming athletes; I've done some analysis attempting to debunk that theory.

I still believe, as I stated last November, that using IF selection criteria creates a situation that is inherently unfair to Canadian athletes:

would it be fair to allow a top 40 trap shooter to go to Athens, when the IF for rowing has set their field size much smaller? Sometimes different IFs set very different criteria. The top 12 standard allows the COC to ensure that athletes from different sports have to meet similar standards. That's only fair.

My other principle objection to weakening the standard was that it causes the COC (and Sport Canada, too) to waste money preparing Olympic teams and athletes that have little chance of performing well when they get there. The policy approved by the COC board, however, attempts to make it clear that all Olympians are not created equal. Korn puts it well in her article:

Previously, the COC funded all Olympic teams fairly equally; hence its interest in taking a small team. After Athens, the organization decided to focus its resources primarily on those ranked in the top eight, with far less support given to lower-ranked teams. So the overall size of the team became less of a financial concern.

So although the Olympic team will get bigger, and will potentially include more sports, the COC is so far holding the line on the idea that funding will be targeted at the highest-performing sports. That's a good policy. Of course, we'll see how it holds up when the stories start to surface about the "unfairness" of unequal NSF funding leading up to the 2008 games.

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