Belfast Telegraph

NI selection system for Games is so unfair: Kerry


By Brian Hill

Kerry O’Flaherty is the latest athlete to hit out at the NI Commonwealth Games Council after being denied the chance to go for glory in Australia next year.

Sprinter Amy Foster already expressed her fury after being left out in the cold and now 3,000m steeplechaser O’Flaherty has conveyed her anger on social media.

Northern Ireland will send a squad of 88 sportspeople across 13 sports to the Games but those who just failed to make the cut have been left wondering why.

The Council followed the nominations order submitted by Athletics Northern Ireland in late October so O’Flaherty and Foster are deemed surplus to requirements.

In total, a team of 134 athletes, coaches and support staff will travel to the Gold Coast, which is the largest team that Northern Ireland has sent to a Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Newcastle athlete O’Flaherty has argued that injury disrupted her preparations and ultimately resulted in her not making the team.

A calf injury in a 5,000m race resulted in a recovery period and a desperate attempt in July to achieve the Games qualification standard. She was an agonising 0.4 seconds short of that in a race in Belgium but finally achieved the time four days later.

O’Flaherty said she then rushed into races in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to achieve a second qualification mark. This proved critical as all 11 athletes selected for the Games had two or more qualification marks.

“I believe the Athletics NI selection policy was flawed in that it allowed no scope for injury to be taken into account,” said O’Flaherty. “For me, the issue is one of fairness and equity. It cannot be right that someone like me who was ranked seventh in the Commonwealth in 2015 and 2016 is left at home. I was still ranked 14th last year in my injury-hit season.”

Athletics NI have responded by explaining that the standards set for the various events and the accompanying criteria were open, specific and discussed with both athletes and their coaches, including O’Flaherty.

The criteria was based on a template applied elsewhere in the UK. There were detailed consultations on the matter over a lengthy period of time before final decisions were taken.

They state that it was fair and reasonable for only an athlete’s most recent performances — in 2017 — to be taken into account for selection purposes. Earlier achievements would not, in many instances, reflect an athlete’s current form. Also, Athletics NI did not consider the issue of injury was an appropriate criterion to be included.

They said the factor was far too subjective and impractical. For example, what type of injury would the selectors take into account and what period of time would be appropriate to consider the injury affected an athlete’s performance?

O’Flaherty’s comments also refer to a remark from the Games Council that athletics had retained a strong team presence of 11 able-bodied athletes for the Gold Coast due to the sport emphasising the progress their athletes had made in the past couple of years. That probably addresses the nub of this controversy.

Due to the improved standards, a record 14 athletes achieved the qualification mark. Given this plus demands of other sports, it was inevitable that some athletes would lose out regardless of past achievements.

O’Flaherty concluded: “I have promised myself I will bounce back from this. Good luck to all Team NI athletes competing at the Gold Coast.”

Belfast Telegraph

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