LONDON (Reuters) - The British Olympic Association (BOA) has risked becoming embroiled in a legal challenge ahead of next month’s London Games after dashing taekwondo world number one Aaron Cook’s hopes of competing.
The BOA said in a statement on Friday that its four-member Olympic qualification standards panel had agreed unanimously to back east Londoner Lutalo Muhammad over European champion Cook in the -80kg weight division.
The decision may not be the final say in the matter, however, with Cook considering his options after instructing a London law firm to advise him on a possible legal challenge.
The initial nomination triggered accusations the selection was politically motivated and a “stitch-up”, punishing Cook for leaving British Taekwondo’s performance programme last year to train separately.
Cook’s management see it that way and slammed the decision not to select him as an “absolute disgrace”.
“He is world number one, European champion and has beaten 10 of the top 15 athletes in the Olympic rankings in his most recent fights,” said Jamie Cunningham of the Professional Sports Group.
”What more could Aaron have done? Is the message that if you fund yourself and do not take lottery funding, then you cannot participate in the Olympic Games? UK Sport needs to ask and be asked some serious questions.
“We urge the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) to consider the ramifications of this flawed decision for their great sport. It makes a mockery of the taekwondo -80kg competition in the London Olympics,” he added.
“Aaron will be considering whether he wishes to pursue a legal route to contest this decision over the weekend.”
Last week the BOA refused to ratify Muhammad, an unprecedented move by the Olympic body, but the taekwondo selectors hit back by voting a third time in his favour.
The governing WTF then warned the dispute and a perceived lack of transparency in the selection process risked bringing the sport into disrepute and called for a review.
The BOA, whose panel consulted the world ruling body, expressed “strong disappointment” with British Taekwondo but recognised they had followed approved selection procedures and complied with directives issued to them.
“There are two world-class athletes directly impacted by this nomination and our panel would have preferred to see the selection process managed in a manner that would have been of much greater service to both athletes,” said BOA chief executive Andy Hunt.
“That said, after a thorough review, the panel is now sufficiently satisfied the agreed selection procedures have been followed and it is on that basis we are ratifying the nomination.”
The Games start in 49 days’ time on July 27.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; editing by Tony Jimenez