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A Comparison of the Olympic Selection Procedures for British Cycling, Athletes and Swimming

This article was first published by LawInSport.  For further information visit

Nicholas Siddall analyses the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games selection criteria for British athletes in the disciplines of Cycling, Athletics and Swimming and seeks to identify themes, trends and the scope for potential challenge. It does not address the appeals process which shall be the subject of a later article.


In an admirably concise document,1 British Cycling has published its criteria for selection. It states that selection decisions shall occur week commencing 13 June 2016. The stated aim of the policy is:

to ensure only the most competitive athletes are selected and that the maximum number of cycling medals are won.

Clearly a laudable goal but how does this translate into the nuts and bolts of selection?


The composition of the panel is set out in some detail. It is the Team Great Britain Selection Panel (TGBSP) that will be chaired by a member of the Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Management Team (GBCT SMT). A minimum of two further selection panel members will be nominated by the GBCT SMT, who may include but are not restricted to members of the GBCT SMT, coaching staff and expert advisers.

Selections shall be made by majority decision of the TGBSP. In addition to voting members, there will be an independent individual appointed by the Chief Executive of British Cycling, who will not have voting rights but will be present to supervise procedures and to ensure that due process is followed.


The criteria are interesting in that they contain something of a heady mix between objectively determinable characteristics and subjective value judgments that may be ripe for disagreement or challenge. This is made plain by the preamble that states:

All TGB selections will be discretionary and based on the professional judgement of the TGBSP in light of the primary objective of the selection criteria (as outlined above).

Despite the presence of published criteria the document opaquely states:

When making its decision, the selection panel will consider the following factors, in any order and with appropriate weighting that the selection panel sees fit.


  • An athlete’s UCI World Ranking, 2015 and current (up until June 5th2016)
  • International race performances in the following periods;
    • Track: October 1st 2015 –June 5th 2016
    • Road: Jan 1st 2016-June 5th 2016
    • MTB: May 1st2015–June 5th 2016
    • BMX: July 1st2015–June 5th 2016
  • Training performances in the period January 1st2016 up to selection date.
  • Specific nature of the Rio 2016 courses (road race, road time trial, MTB and BMX).
  • The profile of athletes already selected to ensure optimal team composition.
  • Young exceptional athletes who will benefit from an Olympic experience and are considered to be competitive in 2016 and medal prospects for 2020.
  • To be eligible for selection for a team event (Team Pursuit, Team Sprint) a rider must demonstrate commitment to, and co-operate in, planned team training sessions as identified by coaches.
  • The team size restrictions may result in some “doubling up” in events.
  • Any other points the selection panel deems necessary


Although this article will not address appeals in general, it seems worth mentioning that an additional interesting lacuna is found as regards rights of appeal. The TGBSP has the right to select non-podium funded members of the GBCT. The appeals procedure is in a separate document but the selection document states“appeals will only be accepted from Podium funded members of the GBCT programme.”



British Athletics’ slightly more verbose criteria2 run to 10 pages. Its stated strategic aim is:

…to maximise the team’s potential to win medals at both Rio and future Olympic Games. The policy has therefore been structured to nominate a team with this aim in mind.

Selection is on a staggered basis up until July 13th 2016.


The composition of the panel is again set out in some detail. It requires the following:

  1. Voting members;
    1. British Athletics’ Performance Director;
    2. British Athletics’ Heads of Sprints/Hurdles/Relays (except marathon/race-walks pre-selection), Endurance and Field/Combined Events (except marathon/race-walks pre-selection); and
    3. Other event group representatives as nominated by the Performance Director (in the case of the marathon/race-walks pre-selection, there will always be at least one additional event group representative present).
  2. Non-voting members:
    1. British Athletics Performance Programme Manager (who will chair the meeting);
    2. At least one independent observer;
    3. British Athletics’ Chief Medical Officer (“the CMO”);
    4. Statistician;
    5. Media representative; and
    6. Note-takers etc. as required.

Immediately a separation of powers is seen in that the chair of the meeting will have no voting rights at the same.


The level of detail set out in the British Athletics document is such that it is not susceptible to concise summary. Essentially it requires that there is a process of automatic selection based upon performance in trials at stage 1. Detailed “tie-break” provisions are set out in the document. Stage 2 is a process of selection in up to three further Panel meetings. It is of note that it is only in the event of there being more athletes than places that a process of subjective selection is applied.

At that stage the Panel’s criteria are stated to be:

If more athletes satisfy all of the criteria outlined in paragraph 1.9(a) (i) to (ii) above than there are places available, athletes will be nominated based on the Panel’s consideration of a combination of the following criteria, as well as any other factors that may be deemed relevant:

  1. World ranking;
  2. Current form;
  3. Future individual medal potential at indoor or outdoor major events;
  4. Head-to-heads;
  5. Previous major competition history;
  6. Injury status;
  7. Position at the relevant Trials;
  8. Impact on medal winning potential in relay teams; and
  9. The number of places available.

Further in the absence of all places in the team being filled the Performance Director can make discretionary selections as long as the athlete meets the detailed qualification standard and is deemed a medal hope.

A general appeals procedure applies to all athletes.

It is thus apparent that the Athletics selection process is far more objective and process driven than is that of Cycling. Discretionary/subjective judgments are permissible but only in circumstances that the objective criteria have not led to the selection of the requisite number of athletes.



In comparison with British Athletics selection criteria, those of British Swimming are significantly more straightforward. The stated aim of the policy3 is as follows:

As an Olympic team, the focus is on a team with medal winning potential. Up to a maximum of 30 athletes will be selected for the Olympic Games 2016. There is no obligation on British Swimming to select 30 athletes. The total team size will be determined by the National Performance Director (NPD) at his complete discretion.

It is recorded that there is a maximum of 2 competitors per individual event and 1 team per team (i.e. relay) event.

The criteria then state:

  1. The winner of each event at the Olympic trials shall be selected so long as their time exceeds a stated requirement;
  2. Up to a maximum of six (6) additional selections (in total) may be made at the discretion of the National Performance Director and the GB Head Coach. As well as other considerations, the NPD and GB Head Coach may use the rankings compiled under (c) below to assist their exercise of discretion. If used, the rankings compiled under (c) below will only be used as a guide. In the event the NPD and GB Head Coach are unable to agree then the NPD’s selection decision is final;
  3. After stages (a-b) further swimmers are subject to consideration for selection of on the basis that they are ranked inside or closest to (in percentage terms) times listed in a defined table. The NPD and Head Coach have the option, but shall not be obliged, to select further athletes, always subject to the maximum team size.

The defined terms are detailed and include tiebreak provisions. An example being:

The winner from the final of the 100m Backstroke, 100m Breaststroke, 100m Butterfly and 100m Freestyle will be ranked as a relay team on the basis of their combined finals time against the time in Table 2, subject to one swimmer winning more than one of the above events (100m Backstroke, 100m Breaststroke, 100m Butterfly and 100m Freestyle), in which case the NPD may, at his complete discretion, use the time of the 2nd placed swimmer to create the fastest combined finals time.

A general appeal process applies.

It is of note that the swimming selection criteria are the most objective of the three. It is perhaps also of note that the preamble addresses selection solely for Rio and may not disclose the long term approach seen in the cycling and athletics criteria. However it is also fair to observe (perhaps as a result) that the number of persons involved in selection is far fewer than under comparable policies.



It is perhaps a surprise to the uninitiated that in the context of disciplines where there is plainly an objective winner or loser that the processes for selection can vary so markedly. It is a matter of conjecture whether a simple procedure is a better guarantee of a just outcome or whether that end is better served by detailed procedural requirements.

It is also a topic of animated debate whether selection solely on the basis of trials is a more or less reliable means of determination. What can safely be said is that all of the above policies allow routes of criticism and in the context of the financial rewards open to successful Olympians legal challenges to selection are a real possibility.


  1. British Cycling, “Selection Criteria for Team Great Britain for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games”, last accessed 10 May 2016,
  2. British Athletics, Rio 206 Olympic Games Selection Policy, last accessed 9 May 2016,
  3. British Swimming, ‘Olympic Games 2016 – Selection Policy,’ last accessed 10 May 2016,
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