In late May British Taekwondo announced that it has selected Lutalo Muhammad, age 20, to represent Great Britain in Taekwondo at the 2012 Olympics in the Male Under 80kg category. Muhammad was chosen over the likely choice: Aaron Cook.
The decision by British Taekwondo is perplexing. It’s controversies like this that taint the intended purity of the Olympic movement and sicken me. Cook, age 21, already has Olympic experience under his belt. At only 17 years old he competed in 2008 at his first Olympic Games, narrowly missing out on a bronze medal to home crowd favorite Zhu Guo. Cook is the reigning European Champion, a title he first won in 2010. He’s also currently ranked Number 1 in the world in the Men’s Under 80kg category. Muhammad has never won an international event in this category. While having performed well in Under 87kg, he has yet to prove himself in Under 80kg.
The preference for Muhammad over Cook has raised such protest that theBritish Olympic Association requested that British Taekwondo provide a detailed explanation for its decision and the World Taekwondo Federation also is investigating. Even British Olympic hero Sir Steven Redgrave voiced dismay over the snubbing of Cook. Cook appealed, but British Taekwondo upheld its verdict. Media reported that there could be legal action to come, which again saddens me.
Many speculate that Cook’s Olympic exclusion is a direct result of his decision to leave the British training program last year. After a disappointing performance at the 2011 World Championships, Cook gave up government funding and sought out new trainers. Based on his performance in 2012, the change seemed to have been paying off. Until now.
I’ve said many times, I might be a fanatic, but I’m no expert. Yet I find that British Taekwondo’s decision to snub Cook is a direct contradiction to two of the tenets of taekwondo: courtesy and integrity. Furthermore, the decision seems to contradict the tenets of the Olympic Movement which encourage equal opportunity and fair play.
Isn’t it obvious to anyone that team selection–to the most important sporting event–should be done objectively rather than by a panel of human beings (who are by nature biased)? Using numbers (results, rankings) is the only objective method upon which to rely. Sure, there will be times where injury and other factors play a role in determining team selection, but in this case, there’s no reason not to rely on the obvious. The numbers for Cook and Muhammad are plain and simple, easy to discern. Cook is ranked Number 1 in the world; Muhammad, 59th. Cook has Olympic experience; Muhammad does not. Cook is the reigning European Champion in Under 80kg; Muhammad is European Champion in Under 87 kg.
I bear no ill will against Muhammad, and perhaps in four years his ranking (and performance) will qualify him for the Olympics. In the meantime, we have a qualified champion in Aaron Cook who has been deprived of Olympic participation. Where is the courtesy, integrity, equality, and fair play when we rely on bias rather objective data?
Published with permission from The Olympic Fanatic.