IOC's Olympic age rules unfair and fickle

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2011

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OPINION: The International Olympic Committee needs to get its act together or risk winning a gold medal for rampant ageism.

Young Canterbury mountainbiker Anton Cooper is understandably miffed he can't compete at the London Olympic Games because the UCI, international cycling's governing body, has an arcane, outmoded rule precluding riders aged under 19 at the end of the 2012 year.

The world junior cross-country silver medallist will have to wait a further four years to achieve his Olympic dream in Brazil.

The International Association of Associations Federation (IAAF) has a similar rule. Yet it's almost sure to be relaxed for 16-year-old Kiwi shot-put phenomenon Jacko Gill.

Double standards abound. How come pubescent swimmers and gymnasts in their early teens compete at an Olympics, but a bike rider a month shy of voting age at 18 can't? Is riding a mountainbike any more taxing on a young person than an endurance swimming event?

Who is more at risk of Olympic injury or expiry? A buckrat-fit 17-year-old youth or a 55-year-old, chain-smoking rider on the cross-country phase of equestrian's three-day eventing?

Shouldn't the final decision rest with Cooper, his parents, his coach and Mountain Bike New Zealand? Couldn't his application be substantiated by a medical?

There's an old adage in sport that if you're good enough, you're old enough. The Olympics once covered the full gamut of athletic endeavour from pint-sized African marathoners to gargantuan Eastern European weightlifters and pot-bellied pistol shooters. There should be room for athletes in the full bloom of youth to those in late middle age in events where aerobic fitness is not a necessity.

Yet the IOC specialise in silly age rules. Men's football teams are restricted to three players over 23, for instance.

The UCI are guilty of inconsistency. They have no objection to Cooper competing in the world championships a month after the Olympics. The IAAF wouldn't let Gill throw at this year's senior world championships because he was under 18.

Mountain Bike New Zealand and the New Zealand Olympic Committee shouldn't take this snub lying down. They should appeal to the Committee of Arbitration in Sport and make it an international test case.

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