Flora Duffy, Dara Alizadeh to form Olympic team of two as hopes for wild-card pair are dashed
The Bermuda Olympic Association named a two-athlete team for Tokyo 2020, all but ending swimmers Madelyn Moore and Jesse Washington’s hopes of a dramatic reversal on a decision not to accept a universality place on their behalf.
At a press conference yesterday, the BOA announced that triathlete Flora Duffy and rower Dara Alizadeh as the island’s representatives in Tokyo, the smallest Bermuda team ever at a Summer Games, one fewer than at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
The BOA came under intense scrutiny in the past week since it was revealed that a decision had been taken to reject official invitations — in the form of universality places — for both Washington and Moore.
With the official deadline for all National Olympic Committees to enter athletes set for Monday, hopes remained that the original decision would be reconsidered to grant both athletes the opportunity to compete.
However, with the team confirmed, those slim hopes have seemingly all but been dashed, as the BOA defended its decision on not accepting universality places — a stance first cited after a general assembly involving all sporting bodies in 2017.
“At the beginning of every quadrennial the standards committee is tasked with the overall environment of sport and looking ahead to the entire quadrennial which included the CAC Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games and the Olympic Games,” said Katura Horton-Perinchief, the BOA Standards Committee chairwoman.
“Every decision that is made by the eight-person standards committee, including three Olympians, has to go to the executive board of 11 voting members and that specific decision also went though the general assembly. That comprises all of our 26 national governing bodies; they were presented to and they all received minutes of that meeting if they missed it.
“At the standards committee level, it was a consensus that we needed to step our game up. We were providing more funding and support but we had to keep in mind that the way the globe is going — faster, stronger, higher — we have to adjust our process to accommodate that.
“We are now talking about long-term athlete development and longevity of an athlete’s career and not using them up and throwing them to the sharks or wolves before they are in an athlete-readiness position that we’d like them to be in.
“This is not something that should be new to anybody; it has been applied across sport without prejudice for the past four years.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Brenda Dale, the BOA first vice-president, who outlined that the responsibility to keep athletes informed of all policies and stances lies with the individual sporting bodies.
“The presentation was made at the general assembly, which includes all the national sports governing bodies, and they even got a copy of the presentation and the minutes,” added Dale, who said she does not regret the decision taken not to grant Moore and Washington a universality place, citing that Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast, still had to qualify outright for the Olympics.
“That recommendation was put into place and has been practised throughout this entire quadrennial. It is the responsibility of the national governing bodies to relay that information to their athletes.
“We set out what our plan was and we implemented it for this quadrennial. To date I don’t regret the decision. There are countless stories of people not qualifying. You also have to like Simone Biles, probably the greatest of all time in gymnastics, who in order for her to go to Tokyo 2020 she has to go through the Olympic qualifiers when many argued she shouldn’t have to.”
While Judy Simons, the president of the BOA conceded that the expectations of standards could have been made more readily available, she remained steadfast in her views of athletes qualifying outright, even if that limits Bermuda’s Olympic squad.
“We probably could have and we were probably remiss in not putting the recommended standards made by our standards committee clearly, but it is a work in progress,” Simons admitted.
“We had three athletes qualify outright and that’s always our greatest goal. Qualifying for the Olympic Games is huge and I think they should be credited for that alone.
“Are we disappointed that it is a small team? Of course we are, but these guys [Duffy and Alizadeh] qualified to get there and we couldn’t be more proud.
“You can beat the conversation about universality places, but we’ve stood firm and applied our stance across the board.”
While that viewpoint may well leave many within the sporting community still unsatisfied, Branwen Smith-King, the BOA secretary-general, is adamant it is one that will benefit long-term development of athletes, with a focus already on the next Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024.
“I believe philosophically most folks would say that the Olympics is not a place for development,” she said. To throw them in the fire before they are ready sometimes may not be the best thing, especially when they are young.
“There’s no guarantee about if they’d go and do well or not, but that’s not the point. The BOA have made a firm stance and stand by it.
“We want to be optimistic that there will be future opportunities for our athletes and I’m very optimistic about the Paris Olympics.”
• Video, including closing commentary, courtesy of Bermuda Broadcasting Company