Sir Clive Woodward not surprised by Olympic selection rows

By Matt SlaterBBC sports news reporter

Rows over Olympic selection have come as "no surprise" to Team GB's deputy chef de mission Sir Clive Woodward.

World number one Aaron Cook's omission from the taekwondo line-up has been the most high-profile selection dispute.

But Woodward, who coached England to the 2003 Rugby World Cup, says Team GB bosses were warned this would happen.

"There have been more [appeals] than normal but we spoke to recent Olympic hosts and they all had these issues," Woodward, 56, said.

"We talked to the Australians [hosts in 2000] at length and they said it's just that as the host country you have more athletes - our team in London will be 550 compared with 300 in Beijing - so there are going to be more appeals.

"Rightly so, in a way, and our role at the British Olympic Association (BOA) is to make sure the process is fair - that's what we've done.

"So I'm not surprised by it. I can fully understand why every athlete wants to get in the team for a home Games."

Woodward, who also serves as the BOA's head of elite performance, sat on the Team GB panel that initially refused to ratify GB Taekwondo's decision to pick world number 59 Lutalo Muhammad for the -80kg category instead of world number one Cook.

This had already been the subject of one review so it was less surprising when the national governing body opted for Muhammad, a rising talent, for a third time last week.

Satisfied that GB Taekwondo's selection criteria had been adhered to - a fact verified by the presence of a BOA lawyer - Woodward's panel finally rubber-stamped Muhammad's pick, and must have hoped that would be the end of it.

But that hope was dashed on Thursday, when 21-year-old Cook announced he was planning a legal challenge.

The Cook controversy is just one of a number of simmering disputes: the sports of diving and fencing are also facing appeals from aggrieved athletes, and more discontent is expected as the remaining 300 slots on Team GB are filled.

One solution to this problem is to base selection on the most objective grounds possible, and there is no process more objective than the one favoured by the United States Olympic Committee - a system of trials in which athletes compete against each other for a place on the team.

The British boxing and canoeing teams opted for something similar to settle their own selection headaches, but Woodward does not think this approach works every time.

"You've got 26 different sports, so it's not as simple as first across the line," he said.

"There's no right or wrong way. You just need to have a process that everybody agrees to, and that process has to allow every athlete a fair chance.

"Selection is a very emotive subject. It's great giving good news to certain athletes but there are far more athletes you've got to give bad news to.

"As a coach, and I've done it, you've got to know you are picking those teams fairly, so you can live with yourself and eyeball any athlete, coach or parent, and be very clear about why you've made that selection."

Woodward was speaking at the announcement of the team for the BMX, mountain bike and track cycling disciplines, a relatively easy choice for the three-man panel used by British Cycling.

Men's and women's shortlists were also announced for the road race and time trial events. Eight male and six female riders will be pared down to final selections of five and four, respectively, later this month.

David Millar, only eligible for selection again after the BOA's lifetime ban for athletes convicted of serious doping offences was overturned in March, is among those waiting for confirmation of a place at London 2012.

Performance director David Brailsford said there were a few "close calls" but the panel was "pretty happy" with the choices made.

Asked whether he expected any challenges to his choices, Brailsford said that would be down to the athletes left out.

"We used a discretionary selection policy, which means we used our expertise. We selected the team and we live and die by those choices," he said.

"If we get them right we stay in our posts; if we don't, we lose our jobs.

"Ultimately, that's the way to go. Otherwise you can get tied up in knots. You've got to leave it with the experts. Let them choose the team and take it from there."