Meet

Commonwealth Games is shaping as a headache for individual sports

NOTE: Original article wriiten by David Leggat, Sports Writer for the NZ Herald.
david.leggat@nzherald.co.nz     @legslip1


A change in how New Zealand's team will be chosen for next year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games is shaping as a headache for individual sports.

The Commonwealth Games Federation is intent on trimming numbers at next April's event after an overflow of bodies in Glasgow in 2014 left several hundred people, who were expecting to be housed within the Games village, out of a bed.

There's also a belief that a more manageable number of athletes and support staff is due. About 6600 people are expected to be on the Gold Coast, either as athletes or support staff, of which about 4500 will be athletes. In Glasgow, that number was about 4950.

So a quota system has been imposed on countries, and the New Zealand Olympic Committee has been working to settle on a fair number of places for each sport.

That's been based to a large degree on anecdotal evidence of the size of individual teams at past Games. The reaction from sports has been mixed.

The NZOC has a total of 125 quota spots to work with - but that will bump up one spot assuming a women's team pursuit cycling group, fourth in Rio last year, are chosen.

NZOC chief executive Kerryn Smith pointed out certain parameters won't change. Athletes will still need to produce qualifying performances and prove they are capable of a top six place, or in the case of teams make the podium.

And there is likely to be some wriggle room. Some sports won't be able to take up their quota, which will then go into a pot for other sports seeking an extra place or two, to put up a case for enlarging their number.

Team sports are excluded from the 125, and New Zealand are planning on two hockey teams, two basketball teams, and two sevens rugby squads while netball's Silver Ferns will be among the favourites for a gold medal. New Zealand's total team number is expected to touch 250, which would be the country's biggest Commonwealth Games squad, one more than the number in Melbourne in 2006.

There are wrinkles to be worked through all around the plan.

For example, if the NZOC felt they have a strong case for a larger overall quota, they can apply to the CGF and would expect a fair hearing. When other countries fail to take up their full quota, how does the CGF disperse those spots to the 70 countries expected on the Gold Coast? No one seems sure.

Athletics has New Zealand's largest quota of 19. High-performance boss Scott Goodman thinks that number is "a fraction tight".

"I think we'll end up okay, but I was quite stirred up about this 12 months ago because culturally it's not how our sport functions," he said.

If, say, 22 athletes qualify, the Athletics New Zealand selectors have to rank them in pecking order, which could lead to, hypothetically, comparing a javelin thrower against a 1500m runner. ANZ have put in place what Goodman calls a waterfall approach, trickling down from most meritorious to those who have qualified but with less room to spare.

"That's not normal for our circumstances. It worries me," he said, adding that he suspects it may work out but through "more good luck than good management".

All sports have different situations to work through.

Boxing has received five quota spots but had nine in Glasgow, including two women. Now instead of two classes for women there will be six on the Gold Coast.

Swimming has 12 spots and chief executive Steve Johns said that was about right. They have a selection policy to help unmuddy the waters but Johns has some sympathy for the CGF.

"I can certainly see what they're trying to do, because it [numbers] was getting out of control," he added.

The strength of swimming in Canada, England, Scotland and South Africa makes this one sport where the quality is invariably high. Swimming New Zealand has a set criteria in place if more than 12 qualify.

One individual sport excluded from the quota system is weightlifting. They are trialling a new method of selection for the sport. Similarly, beach volleyball isn't in the equation, as a new sport to the Games programme. New Zealand are aiming for one team in each 12-team event. That's done by qualifying through tournament play.

"Right from the start we did indicate we might be under pressure [with that quota number]," Smith said, adding New Zealand would hope to be considered a priority nation when redistribution takes place because of it's proximity to the Gold Coast.

"We would like to be seen favourably if we needed them, and we have continued to stress we may require them. However, athletes still have to prove their top-six capability."

Seven sports have received a small share of a 35,000 ($65,000) handout from the CGF. The NZOC decided where it should be spent and badminton, table tennis, wrestling, diving, para bowls, beach volleyball and boxing, who get none, or negligible, high-performance funding are the recipients.

All nominations will be with the NZOC selectors by the end of January. Re-jigging numbers, and sports entering a bidding situation for any extra spots, is expected early in February.

Numbers game

Athletics: Quota number 19. Will need to work out pecking order for nominations, for example whether a javelin thrower should rank ahead of an 800m runner. Potentially tricky.

Badminton: Eight. That will drop to four individuals if a team does not meet the strict medal-winning capability rules.

Bowls: 10, the same number as in Glasgow three years ago.

Boxing: Five. They had nine, including two women, in Glasgow. Now there are six women's categories instead of two.

Cycling: 26 (but will go to 27 with an extra place if women's team pursuit, fourth at Rio last year, is in).

Diving: Two, but hoping a place can be found for a syncho team as well.

Gymnastics: 11. In line with the last three Games attendances but includes a team of six who, if not rated a top-three chance, could be rubbed out.

Shooting: Eight. No problems.

Squash: Six. That's the minimum and ideally would want eight, in line with Glasgow and Delhi in 2010.

Swimming: 12. No issues there. Remember, Canada, South Africa, Australia, England and Scotland mean it's tough in terms of talent and competition.

Table tennis: Eight. Possible only one or two might make the trip. Had 10 in Glasgow.

Triathlon: Five. One down on Glasgow. Would like one more to cover the mixed team relay.

Wrestling: Five. Disappointed. Had six in Glasgow.

Total quota: 125 (to go to 126 depending on cycling women's team pursuit)

• In addition there will be two sevens teams, two hockey squads, two basketball teams and netball's Silver Ferns.

Note: Weightlifting is using a qualifying system rather than quota; hoping to have up to 15 lifters on the Gold Coast; ditto beach volleyball - going for the first time to a Games - relies on qualification but banking on one entry in each 12-team event.




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