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Not giving up on our athletes

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A little more than one week ago, we were forced to go public regarding a decision that was made by the Bermuda Olympic Association regarding the use of universality spots for the Olympic Games.

Ben Smith is the national swim coach of Bermuda

I use the word “forced” because after the BOA president had received appeals from the International Federation of Swimming and several swimming leaders in our region, the decision remained the same. This decision that has impacted triathletes and sailors already this year was now having a specific impact on two swimmers.

Madelyn Moore and Jesse Washington

I questioned the benefit for Bermuda to refuse to accept the invitation provided by the international swimming federation for our athletes to attend. In response on June 24 in The Royal Gazette, the BOA president, Judy Simons, is quoted: “Following the Rio Games, in the best interest of athletes’ overall development, the BOA adopted and has adhered to the practice of approving athletes’ participation at international festivals if they meet the requisite qualifying standards for those festivals.”

This statement seems to imply that the policy that has been written by Fina — the international governing body for aquatics — and ratified by the International Olympic Committee is not in the best interest of the development of our athletes.

Is this BOA practice a defined policy that has been ratified by the general members? What was the desired outcome of the new practice of the BOA? What prompted the change by the BOA after the Rio Olympics to implement the new practice? Has the philosophy of the BOA and the IOC changed to performance-based?

The national sports governing body for swimming has asked the BOA for a copy of the policy and the minutes of the meeting in which the policy was voted on and ratified, and has not received either.

The BOA president is also quoted saying :“This practice has been applied consistently and without prejudice to all athletes in all sports for all competitions during the current quadrennial and has produced some of the most successful teams Bermuda has seen in recent times.”

Can the president explain what criteria is being used to gauge success by the BOA? Can it confirm how it can connect the perceived success to the new practice that was implemented after 2016? Does this new practice match what can be found on the BOA website under its first objective: to develop, promote and protect the Olympic Movement and its ideals throughout Bermuda in accordance with the Olympic Charter.

I specifically would like to draw everyone’s attention to information provided on the BOA website under “About Us”:

The Bermuda Olympic Association was formed through the keenness of local swimmers and the initiative of men such as John King, “Chummy” Hayward and Jim Murray. A move to obtain recognition from the International Olympic Committee was started in 1934. After a great deal of work and correspondence, final approval of the formation of the Bermuda Olympic Committee was received on February 13, 1936. An invitation to take part in the 11th Olympiad in Berlin was received shortly thereafter. The Bermuda Olympic Association is one of 199 National Olympic Committees worldwide. It is committed to the development of athletes and supports the development of “sport for all” programmes and high-performance sport in Bermuda.

The practice implemented by the existing BOA regime where swimmers could attend only with the A standard would have had a devastating impact on Bermuda and its Olympic journey since 1936 if it was used as the selection criteria throughout history. Those swimmers that helped to form the BOA would not have qualified; nor any swimmer in Bermuda’s long history in the sport.

Swimming is different from most sports in that it has A and B qualifying times. The A qualifying time is equal to the top 14 times in Rio 2016, and is obtained by approximately 10 per cent of the national federations in the world. If other countries adopted a similar standard, virtually no one from around the globe would be able to compete in the Olympics. It is particularly absurd for an island of our size to insist on such a prohibitive policy.

I would like to thank all of the people that have sent messages of support to these two young Bermudians over the past week. They felt that community support when they were in Puerto Rico preparing to compete. Thank you for all the support towards funding these athletes to go to Tokyo and suggestions on funding them. Unfortunately, this was never a funding issue, as the cost for attending was covered by the international federation and the IOC.

This decision to not accept the invitation was made purely by the BOA to enforce its new practice. Essentially, the BOA has dug in its heels, insisting that it knows more about swimming and the development of swimmers than the international federation, the regional experts in swimming and the Bermuda swimming federation.

I also think it is important to ask for more past Olympians and past athletes to start to speak up to support the changes to make our athletes the priority again instead of whatever the new practice is of this BOA regime. Please understand we continue and will continue to drive our athletes to reach their full potential and continue to have high expectations of them. I will not accept the comments that say our athletes are substandard and would only embarrass Bermuda at the Games. Those that hide behind fake names on social media and in the comments sections of news websites should let people know how they have such inner-circle detail of the BOA and its decision-making.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate Jesse Washington and Madelyn Moore for their performances in Puerto Rico. Both athletes have been on a different journey over the past year and have been impacted in different ways by the pandemic, which has affected us all. With practices cancelled, gyms and pools closed, and most international Olympic qualifying meets cancelled, these two continued to persevere.

The complete disappointment that they felt on June 21 that internationally they were supported and invited, but the BOA felt differently. Even though it weighed heavy on them throughout the week, they showed their strength with their performance. The theme for this year for Bermuda is resilience and I was proud of the resilience of these two young Bermudians.

They continue to prove that they can be role models for Bermuda in the same way that they are respected in our region, which will be represented by all of their competitors while Bermuda will not be represented at all. When the Tokyo Games happen, the opening ceremonies for Bermuda will be represented most likely by administrators because we have only two athletes to attend.

Is this the success of the BOA practice implemented from 2016 that Bermuda will be represented by fewer athletes? Will those athletes travel on lowest economy fares while administrators travel business class, which is the normal practice?

If we truly want to do what is in the best interest of our athletes, we need to start to put the athletes first in our decision-making. Closing doors in the face of athletes that have been opened by international federations benefits only those that the door closes behind.

Let’s hope that the BOA reconsiders letting our athletes compete for Bermuda at the Tokyo Olympic Games.


Ben Smith is writing in his capacity as the national swim coach of Bermuda

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Published July 02, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated July 01, 2021 at 3:25 pm)

Not giving up on our athletes

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