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BOA accused of blocking swimmers’ road to Tokyo

Dreams dashed: Jesse Washington, left, and Madelyn Moore, have seen their aspirations of competing at the Olympic Games this summer seemingly ended

Ben Smith has criticised the Bermuda Olympic Association for denying swimmers Jesse Washington and Madelyn Moore the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

With the start of Games now just 30 days away, the national swimming coach has accused the BOA of rejecting an official invitation from the International Swimming Federation — the organisation recognised by the International Olympic Committee for administering international competition — of what is called a universality place for both Washington and Moore.

Universality places typically allow smaller nations and those with developing swimming programmes the opportunity to be represented at the Olympics. The main Olympic qualifying criteria established A and B standards for athletes to qualify. But if a nation has no athletes selected who qualified in the pool, it can still be represented at the Games through the universality wild card.

In short, the system allows a nation with no Olympic swimming qualifier to enter up to one male and one female in one event. Typically, those universality entries require that the athletes competed in the most recent edition of 2019 world championships.

With both Washington and Moore meeting those requirements, Pedro Adrega, the Fina Olympic Games Swimming Entries Co-ordinator, wrote to the BOA to indicate their eligibility and give the opportunity for a universality place to be accepted — first on April 13, and again on June 4, with a deadline of June 20.

With the deadline looming, and the offer to apply not taken, Smith wrote a final plea to the BOA to reconsider its decision and apply for the universality places on offer.

“I would like to take this opportunity to make a final appeal to the Bermuda Olympic Association to change their policy on universality at the Olympic Games that has impact on athletics and swimming,“ Smith wrote in a letter to Judy Simons, the BOA president, dated June 19.

“Fina has invited Madelyn Moore and Jesse Washington to participate in the Tokyo Games. If the BOA is not willing to sign the document that needs to be submitted by June 20, it will have made a decision to restrict the Bermuda athletes to the A standard only for selection. This would mean that all athletes in Bermuda would be asked to be at the top-14 level just to compete at the Olympics.

“How did we reach a point of creating further obstacles for our young Bermudians when our international partners have welcomed them with open arms?

“We have been given an open door by Fina and the IOC. I know that they have been in contact with you to try to persuade you to reconsider. Please take a moment to consider why any member of the BOA would want to encourage Bermuda to close this door.

“Is the BOA sure that the result they are looking for will be achieved by crushing the dreams of these young Bermudians?”

The national coach was also supported vehemently by dignitaries from across the sport, including Juan Carlos Orihuela, vice-president of Fina, and Dale Neuburger, the world governing body’s treasurer and Tokyo 2020 Swimming Technical Delegate.

“Fina has a single goal that is shared by the IOC in creation of the qualification procedures; the best male and best female swimmer in every country will participate in Tokyo,” said Neuburger in a letter to Simons. “If you apply this simple premise, then I think the decision becomes more clear and transparent; the two best Bermudian swimmers should compete in Tokyo.

“I say this respectfully, and without malintent, but it is inconceivable to me that a leading National Olympic Committee, as is the Bermuda Olympic Committee, will turn down an invitation issues by the IOC and Fina.

“I would be remiss in my duties not to implore you to reconsider your decision and provide the opportunity for two Bermudian athletes to achieve their Olympic dreams.”

However, despite the passionate pleas, the deadline passed with the BOA seemingly refusing to reconsider its position on applying for the universality places, dealing a major blow to Washington and Moore’s hopes of competing at the Games this summer.

That led to a backlash from both Smith, and the wider community on social media, with many demanding answers from the BOA’s for its decision.

“Why is the Bermuda Olympic Associations spending so much time and effort to remove athletes that have been selected internationally and restricting our team size,” said Smith in a statement to The Royal Gazette. “Our athletes have shown the development path if we support and believe in them. Why is the BOA showing them they don’t believe in our athletes?”

The Royal Gazette reached out to the Bermuda Olympic Association for comment.

Timeline of events

April 13: Pedro Adrega, the Fina Olympic Games Swimming Entries Co-ordinator, writes to the BOA to indicate Jesse Washington and Madelyn Moore are eligible for a universality place at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

June 4: Pedro Adrega again writes to the BOA offering the opportunity to apply for the universality places for both swimmers by the deadline of June 20.

June 19: Ben Smith, Bermuda’s national swimming coach, writes a letter to July Simons, president of the BOA, pleading to the association to reconsider its decision and apply for the universality places on offer.

June 20: The deadline for universality place applications, as indicated in Adrega’s official invitational letters to the BOA, passes.

June 21: Smith hits out at the BOA, accusing it of denying Washington and Moore the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games after rejecting the official universality place invitation from Fina.

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Published June 23, 2021 at 8:02 am (Updated June 24, 2021 at 8:02 am)

BOA accused of blocking swimmers’ road to Tokyo

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