Yachting NZ failed to give sailors a fair chance

By David Leggat

Board sailor Jon Paul Tobin. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Board sailor Jon Paul Tobin. Photo / Richard Robinson.

You hear plenty of feelgood stories about athletes winning Olympic selection, maybe against the odds, maybe because of their tender years, or for one final hurrah at the end of their careers.

Less so, the other end of the scale.

This week, one of the country's major sporting organisations received a fair old slap over its handling of two sailors trying to get to the Rio Games in August.

Yachting New Zealand drew the ire of the Sports Tribunal over its treatment of Laser Radial sailor Sara Winther and board sailor Natalia Kosinska - not so much the overlooking of their Olympic credentials but the way it was done.

The pair went to the tribunal after being rejected for Rio by YNZ, who have announced sailors to contest seven of the 10 classes there.

The other event which won't have a silver fern involved is the men's board sailing, where Jon Paul Tobin gave up early this year after trying and failing to get clear information of what was required to secure his Olympic place.

Unlike the other Olympic classes, Winther, who was 20th at the London Games in the same discipline, and Kosinska were denied funding to receive coaching support.

In 2014, both women - and Tobin - qualified their classes for Rio.

Winther finished 11th at the world championships in Santander, a better finish than 470 men Dan Willcox and Paul Snow-Hansen, who have since improved significantly, having received financial assistance.

Kosinka was also ninth at her individual class worlds.

Buoyed by getting all 10 classes across the line, YNZ sought and received a further $1.2 million funding from High Performance Sport towards further enhancing the programme. But while other crews benefited, not a dollar found its way to Winther or Kosinska. They had to keep their bids afloat out of their own wallet.

If all others were in the same boat, so to speak, that's fine. This is not to say the women would have been in the medals in Rio, but the handling of this seems to have been based on a manifestly uneven playing field.

Tribunal adjudicator Sir Bruce Robertson delivered a rocket to YNZ, who he said were obliged "to abide by the rules of natural justice and to ensure basic fairness in its implementation".

"Athletes in contention ... should be aware of what information they are being judged by, and be given a reasonable opportunity to provide feedback on this.

"I am not sure the athletes were given this opportunity ... or how they would perform [in Rio] were adequately assessed in arriving at their decisions."

Bang. There may be some legal niceties in there, but that's a fair old left-right combination to one of the country's most prominent sports organisations.

The selection policy is tailored to give significant discretion to YNZ and Robertson rejected the appeals on the basis there was adequate foundation for the selectors' decisions.

That is not the same as saying all Olympic candidates were given an equal chance.

- NZ Herald

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