Thorpe Has Grounds for Appeal, Legal Expert Says -- March 31, 2004
SYDNEY, March 31. AUSSIE superstar Ian Thorpe has legitimate grounds to appeal the disqualification which cost him the chance to defend his Olympic 400 meter freestyle title in Athens, a sports law expert said yesterday in Sydney. The AFP story was reported in today's Malaysian Star.
Despite swimming's international rule that disqualifies swimmers for one false start, lawyer John de Mestre said Thorpe could argue he never actually started the race.
Thorpe, the 400m world recordholder, toppled off the starting blocks at the Australian Olympic Trials last Saturday and fell into the water.
Under the international rules, Thorpe was disqualified from the event and under Australian Swimming's strict selection criteria, the two 400m Olympic berths went to the first two swimmers in the final: Grant Hackett and Craig Stevens.
But de Mestre said Thorpe may have grounds to appeal, although the process could cost him almost US$200,000).
"He was disqualified for starting before the starting signal," said de Mestre, who represented several athletes in appeals before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
"He may be able to argue that he didn't start, that he simply fell in. By that I mean if he'd fallen backwards off the block or if he'd fallen sideways, would it have been deemed a start?"
"If he could then convince a tribunal that he hadn't actually started, in other words the gun hadn't gone off, he could appeal to Australian Swimming that they hadn't properly implemented their nomination criteria or that he wasn't afforded a reasonable opportunity by Australian Swimming to satisfy that particular criteria," he said.
Australian Swimming could then suggest a swim-off to determine the best people for the team, the law expert said.
De Mestre said he would be surprised if Thorpe, who has qualified for the 100 and 200m freestyle for the Olympics, appealed.
He said appeals were traumatic for athletes and were so costly they sometimes left sporting bodies insolvent.
Of the 42 appeals lodged before the Sydney Olympics, six were upheld. Of the 36 which were unsuccessful, 12 lodged further appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and three of those were upheld.