The IOC, in their determination to maintain normality – or to return to normality as soon as possible – have issued a position update on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the potential changes to the qualification process disrupted by the spread of Covid-19.
Many sports, including sailing, have had to cancel qualifying events and the IOC has asked International Federations to consider revising the qualification process which may include ranking or historical results. For athletes planning to use the remaining events to qualify, this could mean the end of their road to Tokyo, and in some cases, the end of their careers. The negative implications of a revised qualification system have put athletes and the IOC at loggerheads, particularly as there are different restrictions on athlete training regimes across sports and countries.
It is hard to believe that the Games will run on schedule, not because of the state of play in August, but because a revised qualification system will surely end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport when potential qualifiers feel excluded.
The IOC has declared a number of principles as follows:
- All quota places that have already been allocated to date remain allocated to the NOCs and athletes that obtained them.
- The possibility remains to use existing and scheduled qualification events, wherever these still have fair access for all athletes and teams.
- All necessary adaptations to qualification systems and all allocation of remaining places will be:
a) based on on-field results (e.g. IF ranking or historical results); and
b) reflect where possible the existing principles of the respective qualification systems (e.g. use of rankings or continental/regional specific event results).
If, as seems increasingly likely, ranking or historical results are used to determine sailing’s Olympic qualifiers, then how will Irish sailors be impacted?
Ireland is well out of the running here, both on ranking and results from the most recent Gold Cup. There is one European slot remaining, but the same six as yet to qualify countries that finished ahead of Ireland at the Gold Cup are also ahead of Ireland in the world rankings.
There are two European places yet to be won or allocated with four countries in the running – Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Ireland. While Ireland finished behind all of these at the latest World Championships, Irish Laser Sailor Finn Lynch is ranked 13th, just one place behind the Italian. The top-ranked Belgian is 21st, while the Dutch ranking is 45th. In this case, a world ranking determination would see Ireland qualify for the Games.
Ireland is vying with Belgium, Sweden and Italy for the one remaining European place. Form at the 2020 Worlds suggested that Irish sailors would be favourites having finished ahead of the other three candidates, but they are the lowest in a tightly packed group in the world rankings.
There is no doubt that no matter what option is chosen by World Sailing, the outcome will disadvantage some, benefit others, possibly leading to challenges at higher levels. Ireland may increase its representation in Tokyo, but only by one whether rankings or form is used. In this case, where the wisdom of Solomon is required, it appears the baby will end up in two parts no matter what.