Editorial: Blunder of Olympic proportions

Last updated 05:00 09/08/2012

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OPINION: Put simply the administrative blunder that disconcerted defending shot put champion Valerie Adams ahead of her event at the Olympics was inexcusable.

By all accounts, Raylene Bates, the Dunedin-based team official who omitted to tick the appropriate boxes on the entry forms of Adams and four other New Zealand competitors is an experienced, dedicated and well-regarded coach and administrator. It is unlikely, however, that she will ever again be entrusted with responsibility for competitors at a major international competition.

There is no guarantee that Adams would have won the gold medal if all her paperwork had been in order. Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk's winning throw was 12 centimetres further than Adams' personal best and four of her puts exceeded Adams' best throw on the night.

However, the blunder denied Adams the opportunity to perform at her best. Some competitors would shrug off the omission, particularly after the New Zealand team was able to prevail upon international athletics administrators to reinstate Adams and the other Kiwis in their competitions. Not Adams. She prepares meticulously for events precisely because she does not like last-minute surprises. The consequences of learning 28 hours before qualifying for the shot put started that her sacrifices of the previous four years might have been in vain were apparent for all who watched television coverage of the event to see.

New Zealand expects a great deal of its sportspeople. They are entitled to expect the same of those employed to smooth their paths at international events.

However, the blame should not be laid at the door of a single individual. It seems absurd that such a routine task as completing entry forms, something Bates must have done hundreds, if not thousands, of times before, needs to be double checked, but given what is at stake it does. The debacle has exposed a major flaw in the New Zealand Olympic Committee's systems.

Questions must be asked too about chef de mission Dave Currie's exposure, inadvertent or otherwise, of Bates' identity at a press conference yesterday. Openness and accountability are welcome, but his timing is open to question. Bates is still overseeing the participation of several track and field competitors at the Games - javelin thrower Stuart Farquhar, decathlete Brent Newdick and 1500-metre runner Lucy van Dalen, among them. Bates is said to be distraught about her mistake. Increasing the scrutiny on her will not help her to ensure they can focus solely on their competition.

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Until a tearful Adams was forced to settle for the silver medal on Tuesday, the Olympics had been an unalloyed success for New Zealand. The rowers have set new standards for all sports to try to emulate.

But the blunder has shown the need for a thorough review of the Olympic committee's procedures and systems. Adams has been denied the opportunity to compete at her best. It cannot be allowed to happen again to another New Zealand athlete.

- The Dominion Post

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