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Article 6 (Olympic Appeal) – 2016

people posing and smiling with shotguns

Question: Like many people I am totally confused about the appeal that took place over the Men’s Trap position for the forthcoming Rio Olympic Games. Can you please explain it in layman’s terms and do you think the selection process was fair?

Bob Turner, Bendigo VIC


Answer: Don’t feel bad about being confused Bob. I think everyone was confused and many still are.

Shooting Australia (SA) released its Olympic Game’s Selection Policy designating two events early this year that an athlete could automatically qualify for the Trap Team in Rio if they met certain criteria. Only athletes that had achieved an internationally recognized Minimum Qualifying Score (MQS) over the previous two years would be eligible for an Olympic nomination at either of these events. To be nominated an athlete would have to hit a nominated benchmark score of 121 targets out of a possible125 in the qualification rounds and then go on to win the Gold Medal Match in the same event. If they did this they would be considered for the Olympic Team. No Trap shooter in either the Men’s or Women’s category achieved this prerequisite. With no automatically selected athletes to choose from under their policy SA was at its absolute discretion to subjectively select whatever two athletes they wanted. Here is where the trouble began.

SA selected Adam Vella and Michael Diamond. There was no argument that they were both fine competitors that have had a history of impressive international results however a young Victorian teenage competitor, Mitchell Iles, appealed against his non-selection largely based on two factors. Firstly over the preceding 12 months he had achieved the Shooting Australia Olympic benchmark score of 121 more times than both Diamond and Vella in recognized and designated SA competitions and also on May 1st this he became the number ranked Men’s Olympic Trap competitor based on SA’s own Athlete Performance results as evident on their own website. As of June 20th Iles was still ranked number one with Vella second and Diamond third.

The initial appeal was heard under the confines of SA’s own appeal procedure policy. There were two appeals. Women’s Skeet shooter Laura Coles who was the 2014 Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist and 2015 World Cup Finallist appealed against her non-selection when a sixteen-year old Aislin Jones, whom had never competed in a solitary world-ranking event, received the SA Olympic nomination. The Appeal Tribunal found in favour of both Shooting Australia’s two initial choices of Vella and Diamond and Jones. Personally I was a little surprised that Coles dropped a further appeal, but Iles exercised his right to take this matter to the International Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) where his case was scheduled for June 20th. A CAS appeal involves a massive financial commitment from the appellant and becomes very time consuming to prepare Sadly this may have been the reason why Coles didn’t pursue this further. It is important to note that Iles was appealing against his non-selection and not actually against Vella or Diamond.

On June 30th Shooting Australia decided not to nominate Michael Diamond to the Australian Olympic Team due to some outstanding legal charges. In the words of the CEO of Shooting Australia Diamond put the sport into an inappropriate position. Coincidentally the very next day Iles appeal was upheld in the CAS. The Tribunal found that the original SA section panel had failed to take into account the develop prospect Iles gave the sport in respect to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With Diamond ineligible Iles was nominated on July 4th, the very last day anyone could be nominated to the Olympic Team.

In my opinion, and also that of a good many other experienced current and former athletes and administrators, the policy was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. First of all Shooting Australia had controlled who was eligible to compete at all of the events where an Olympic MQS was to be obtained therefore drastically reducing the size of the competition pool of athletes that were starting the Olympic selection process with an MQS score. Secondly clay target shooting is at the mercy of many external issues that inhibit high scoring. Wind, rain, poor light, quality of target machines, background, clay target colour and composition are just a few factors that will dramatically lower scores. There is no doubt the best shooter will always shoot the highest qualification score, but it may not always be a score at a pre-determined level based on overseas scores that are often shot at perfect ranges at the optimum time of the year. Finally a new “finals” system has been introduced for this Olympic period making a competitors Qualifying score void as it wiped back to zero when the semi final starts therefore all six finalists starting equal. The competitors competing for the Gold Medal Match are selected on just 15 targets where only one shot can be fired at the target (in qualification two shots can be used). This means a huge element of good or bad luck can determine a competitor’s semi final fate regardless of how well they competed in the qualification rounds.

If anything positive has come out of the whole media circus leading into the Rio Olympics it is hopefully that a fairer and totally transparent “first past the post” selection system will be adopted in the future. Clay Target Shooting is a very simple sport and teams should not be selected in Boardrooms or worse still in Courtrooms.

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