Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Yachting NZ keeps Olympic rule secret

Yachting New Zealand is refusing to outline its selection criteria for the London Olympics, contrary to common practice for Olympic sports.

The Kiwi sailing team will have a chance to qualify a spot in each of the Olympic classes at the ISAF world championships, which start in Perth today, but how Yachting NZ determines which sailors will be selected is a secret.

While most sports ensure Olympic selection is transparent, even publishing their criteria on their websites, Yachting NZ will not reveal what their athletes need to do to qualify for the 2012 Games.

The national body required the team to sign confidentiality agreements before being eligible for selection.

Yachting NZ chief executive David Abercrombie said the organisation decided to keep its policy secret to stop other teams using the selection criteria to their advantage.

"You may have one sailor that has to reach a certain level within a race to be selected, you could find other countries have the opportunity to take him out of contention in order to promote someone else," he said.

But with a couple of highly competitive classes, one of which - the Laser - has five athletes gunning for a single spot, there are concerns about the lack of transparency.

The policy has been called highly subjective, leaving the selectors with too much discretion.

But Abercrombie says the sailors know where they stand and there is no need to make the criteria public.

"It is a subjective policy. We believe we have a very high calibre of selectors and that they should have the ability to have some degree of discretion in terms of selection," said Abercrombie.

"I don't believe it does us any good making that public, and it probably doesn't do us any good providing that sort of ammunition for the press to be able to conjure up all sorts of opportunities and make a group of assumptions that may be incorrect," he said.

But some would argue keeping their selection policy under wraps invites the media to do just that.

One such assumption is that the selectors have given themselves plenty of wriggle room in the battle between reigning Olympic champion Tom Ashley and Jon-Paul Tobin for the RS:X spot.

Tobin has been the in-form boardsailor this year, finishing second to Ashley's ninth in the Sail for Gold regatta in June, to earn a place at the pre-Olympic regatta in Weymouth in August.

If Tobin again places higher than his Kiwi rival in Perth, the selectors may delay making a decision until after the RS:X world championships in March to give Ashley more opportunities to prove himself.

Abercrombie believes sailing is different to other sports in that many variables can affect a race, including weather, tide, other sailors and boat breakages.

"If you have two athletes that are particularly close, then the selectors have to have the ability to require those particular individuals to sail in more events in order to give [the selectors] more clarity around who the strongest athlete will be.

"If you have a cut-off line you lose the ability to have that subjective approach to selection."

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has approved the selection criteria.

A spokesperson for the committee said while it was unusual for a sport to keep their selection policy secret it accepted Yachting NZ's reasons for doing so.

- NZ Herald

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