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British Olympic Selection Policy Leaves Many Hopefuls Turning To Retirement

One heart broken athlete even said, "I would 100 per cent encourage anybody to switch to another country if that is an option."

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British athletes are voicing their frustration over UK Athletics (UKA) Olympic selection policy, which could result in several top competitors being excluded from the Paris 2024 Games.

Despite meeting World Athletics qualifying standards, these athletes have not met the stricter UKA criteria, potentially also leaving Team GB underrepresented in several events.

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2022 European Championships Munich

Approximately ten athletes ranked high enough to compete in the Olympics could see their spots given to athletes from other countries due to UKA’s policy of enforcing its own standards in addition the ones set by World Athletics.

At least three athletes have announced plans to retire immediately after being informed they did not meet UKA’s standards despite being listed as qualified by World Athletics. 

Among them is discus thrower Jade Lally, who fell short of the UKA qualifying mark by just 5cm. Lally, who threw an impressive 63.15m, the best by any British woman since 1983, said to the New York Times, “I have to retire because of British athletics,” Lally said. “I’m proud to be British … but I’m ashamed to represent British Athletics. If you are a British athlete, and have already missed out on a championship, I would 100 per cent encourage anybody to switch to another country if that is an option. I feel like I have wasted a career trying to prove a federation wrong.”

Shot-put champion Amelia Campbell also missed the UKA qualifying standard by a narrow margin of 64cm. She expressed her heartbreak over the policy, saying to the New York Times, “They [UKA] are killing the sport in the UK,” Campbell said to the New York Times. “I should be a two-time Olympian. Instead I’m retiring. I can’t get over the heartbreak any more. I’m honestly devastated.”

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Phil Norman, another athlete planning to retire, delivered an exceptional performance at the trials in Manchester. Despite running the fastest time by a British steeplechaser in 33 years, he missed the UKA qualifying standard by just 0.15 seconds. 

“I think British Athletics just look at this event as, ‘We’ve got no chance of getting a medal, so what is the point of helping these guys out, what is the point of putting any time and effort into at all’,” he said to the New York Times.

Zak Seddon, who also narrowly missed the steeplechase standard, added, “It makes no sense. You can be good enough for the Olympics but not for Great Britain.”

UKA’s selection policy, aimed at maximizing medals and top-eight finishes, was introduced last year. UK Athletics CEO Jack Buckner has emphasized a shift towards smaller teams focused on athletes with strong medal prospects. The policy is reportedly not financially motivated, despite a recent £3.7 million loss in UKA’s accounts.

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The impact of the policy is significant, with many athletes feeling demoralized and undervalued. 

Athletes are calling for a revision of the selection policy. Lally suggested implementing a more reasonable ‘B’ standard that aligns with global performance levels, arguing that the current policy undermines athletes’ ability to inspire the next generation.

“We know that athletics is dying as a sport,” Lally said. “Retiring is not because I don’t mentally have it or I’m injured. It’s just, ‘What’s the point?‘ And I’m not the only one. It’s crazy.”

The British Olympic athletics team will be announced on Friday, with ongoing appeals being heard. Athletes hope for a last-minute policy change that will allow them to compete on the world stage in Paris.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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