Yachting NZ ordered to reconsider selections after snub

Lukas Walton-Keim taking part in a kite race in Marseille last year. Photo: Getty Images
Lukas Walton-Keim taking part in a kite race in Marseille last year. Photo: Getty Images

By Dana Johannsen 

The Sports Tribunal has taken the rare step of ordering Yachting NZ to reconsider its Olympic selections, ruling the national body relied on "errors of fact" in its decision not to nominate kite foiler Lukas Walton-Keim.

In a decision released on Thursday night, the tribunal upheld the appeal of Walton-Keim over his non-nomination in the new Olympic class.

While the tribunal concluded the nomination criteria was properly followed by Yachting NZ, it found the selectors had relied on "one or more errors of fact" in arriving at its original decision.

The tribunal is yet to issue the full reasons for its ruling, including exactly how the selectors erred. But the brief "result decision" published on its website suggests the case hinged on the strength of the fleet at the event in which Walton-Keim met the performance standard.

The tribunal has referred the question of nomination back to Yachting NZ to decide "using the correct facts in relation to the quality of the field at the second selection regatta, the 2023 European Championships".

It is unusual for the tribunal to order a sport to revise a selection.

Lukas Walton-Keim with partner Olympic pole vault medallist Eliza McCartney. Photo: Getty Images
Lukas Walton-Keim with partner Olympic pole vault medallist Eliza McCartney. Photo: Getty Images
The arbitration body has limited power to overrule a selection decision, rather its role in selection disputes is to ensure the selectors have applied the relevant criteria properly. But nomination policies are written to grant selectors considerable discretion, making it difficult for athletes to argue against.

The tribunal's ruling comes as Yachting NZ faces tough questions over its handling of its Olympic selections for Paris, after leaked documents revealed one of the star crews picked for the Games did not meet the primary selection criteria.

The national body is also facing allegations of bias over its perceived inconsistent application of the "emerging talent" criteria, which Walton-Keim is seeking to be selected under.

New Zealand's sailors must clear an even higher bar than the NZOC's already lofty "top 16" criteria to be nominated for selection. Under its primary selection criteria, Yachting NZ selectors will only nominate athletes deemed capable of winning a medal.

To be eligible, sailors and crews must have, as a baseline, achieved a top 10 placing in at least one selection regatta, or have medalled at a world championships during that Olympic cycle.

There is a second pathway for sailors or crews that Yachting NZ selectors consider have the potential to medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028. Under this criteria, sailors need to finish in the top 16 nations at one of the selection regattas to be eligible for consideration.

Walton-Keim finished 13th country at the European Championships in September last year. He placed 27th and 28th in his other two selection events.

The tribunal decision indicates Yachting NZ had argued the quality of the fleet in the UK regatta was not of high enough standard to warrant Walton-Keim's selection.

According to the leaked nomination policy, the selection regattas for each class are chosen at the beginning of each Olympic cycle "based on the recommendation of the YNZ selectors".

At least two other athletes have been selected under the emerging talent criteria - boardsailor Veerle ten Have in the women's IQ foil, and Greta Pilkington, who was confirmed in Ilca 6 on Tuesday.

Ten Have finished 22nd and 21st overall at her two selection events, but was easily inside the top 16 nations for both events.

Pilkington had a shaky start to her campaign, recording 53rd and 44th placings in the first two selection events earlier this year, before pulling it out of the bag in the final event in Hyeres last month. There the 20 year-old finished 16th, and 14th nation.

Walton-Keim was 11th overall and ninth country at the same event, albeit this was not a designated selection regatta in the kite foiling class.

Olympic selection debate

The controversy over the Yachting NZ's handling of selections is playing out amid a wider debate over how New Zealand selects its teams for the Olympic Games.

Each cycle, the NZOC is called upon to defend its "top 16" policy, and whether it is fair to to place additional performance standards on athletes that have already qualified.

Earlier this month Olympic pole vaulter Eliza McCartney, who is the partner of Walton-Keim, called upon the New Zealand Olympic Committee to reconsider its selection philosophy, saying she does not agree with the practice of denying qualified athletes entry to what is a career-defining event.

Walton-Keim was represented at the tribunal by McCartney's father William, an Auckland-based barrister and mediator. His case was considered under urgency.

The window for the Yachting NZ selectors to make its final decision is fast closing.

The deadline for countries to confirm their quota spots with World Sailing closes on Friday, but a representative for the NZOC confirmed during this week's hearing the New Zealand sailing team has been granted an extension until June 5 to finalise its entries.