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Decision on Star appeal tomorrow

17th June 2008

The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) is likely to announce its decision tomorrow following Saturday's appeal hearing in to the nomination for the Star class.

The process has put Irish sailing in the dock and on this occasion, the fight is over the right to represent Ireland at Qingdao.

The Olympic venue is famous for little or no wind - conditions where many countries expect the outcome to be at best an event for light-airs specialists. At worst it will be a weather-determined lottery.

However, what's really on trial is the Irish Sailing Association's (ISA) subjective crew selection method, and again it's the Star class that is in the deep water of a selection scandal.

Slow and lumbering, whatever this oldest of Olympic craft lacks on the water, it continues to make up for ashore with selection spats capsizing Olympic preparations here for more than a decade.

It has not dulled enthusiasm for participation from Ireland, however, with two Irish Star boats already shipped to China, with both their crews still in the running for the nomination slot.

Tomorrow's decision will determine whether the controversial ISA policy is pulled to safety or dashed on the rocks. The OCI heard almost twelve hours of arguments from Max Treacy and Anthony Shanks on why they and not current ISA nominees Peter O'Leary and Stephen Milne should be the Irish representatives in the Star class.

The nomination, made six weeks ago, was a committee one, which the ISA claim it was entitled to make under its subjective nomination policy.

In its selection the ISA overlooked Treacy's higher ranking and he argued this fact plus the fact that it was he and not O'Leary who qualified the country at the Miami World championships in April.

The ISA defended its unanimous decision to send a team both younger in age and experience but one it, and many sailors, consider full of promise. In making this decision they followed an example of the most successful sailing nation at the last two Olympics - Britain.

There are good examples of subjective selection paying dividends in the short term but the price of success - because of perceived bias, real or otherwise - can be a deterrent to others entering the sport into the future.

What sailor (or his commercial sponsor) would commit to a four-year campaign in which the outcome depended on someone else's choice rather than results?

The appeal - and tomorrow's decision - will be the first rigorous test of the policy and will more than likely shape future qualification for London and beyond.

Because sailing has been unable to provide the OCI with a clear nomination with just 57 days to go until the Olympics, the question has been asked whether the OCI could decide not to send either crew, thereby forfeiting Ireland's place?

It is a highly unlikely outcome. The OCI, more than most, recognises the value of the Irish slot so it will be incumbent on all parties tomorrow to ensure Ireland continues the remarkable journey, begun in Barcelona 1992 by Royal Cork's Mark Mansfield, of four consecutive Olympic appearances in the class.

Because 75% of all Irish sailing is undertaken in keelboats, this controversy has great significance for the majority of Irish sailors, and since the nomination six weeks ago it has garnered considerable online comment. Afloat.ie's online poll on the matter has so far elicited more than 450 responses.

Although both parties have agreed that the OCI will be the final arbiters the right to a final appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is also recognised.

Tomorrow's decision will be brief; there will be no explanation just a letter from the OCI to the ISA advising them if the appeal has been upheld or overturned.

Out of all of this the prospect of a medal or at least a top eight finish (not seen since Tallinn 1980) remains a real possibility for Ireland, not least because of the flukey light-airs nature of the venue which, as every sailor recognises, can make champions of rank outsiders.

Inevitably so there will be a winner and a loser tomorrow but for Irish sailing's sake the hope must be that out of all of this, a Star will be born.

Afloat.ie Team

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