Rowing: Aussies stoke row with Britain


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The Independent Online

Australia's rowers have accused Great Britain of giving their athletes preferential treatment at the Eton Dorney venue for next month's Olympic competition.

Rowing Australia (RA) are outraged that British rowers will be accommodated in a hotel on the Thames, instead of at the athletes' village, and that the British will be allowed to travel to the venue in a special charter boat and through a British-only access point that will cut travel times by around 30 minutes.

RA have suggested the British are guilty of unsportsmanlike behaviour and stretching the rules to "breaking point".

"While 'cheating' is a word I would not choose, what the British are planning is not in the spirit of fair play," said RA's high-performance manager, Andrew Matheson. "This newly created British-only entry will otherwise be off-limits to all other competitors. The British aren't necessarily cheating, but they're doing something we wouldn't consider doing ourselves. Our view is the whole spirit of competition is having the best level playing field you can. They already automatically get a hometown advantage anyway and we believe they're pushing it far too far."

Officials from Germany, the US and the Netherlands have protested with the Australians to the International Federation of Rowing Associations and the International Olympic Committee.

The Australians believe British Rowing have contradicted their own official edict – signed on 16 September 2011 by Debbie Jevans, the director of sport for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) – which stated that the "home team" would not be given preferential treatment. The leaked document, which was sent via email by Jevans to senior Australian Olympic Committee and team officials, says: "I also confirmed that in no case would access be granted to a single team and that they would be open to all teams."

Matheson also slammed Locog for leaving rival teams to negotiate the M4 and M25, with journey times expected to take up to an hour each way "subject to favourable traffic conditions". Matheson says the travel arrangements could sink Australia's prospects of gold.

Britain became the top rowing nation at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The most eagerly anticipated contest in 2012 will be in the men's four, where the Australian triple Olympic champion Drew Ginn wants to end Britain's 12-year domination.

"The Games transport organisation is well behind where we believe it should be and for us it's a double whammy," Matheson said. "To see the home town not even engaging in the village or transport plan for the rest of the countries is a step too far. For us it's a real shame that it's come to this. Our athletes have worked too hard not to get the platform they can work off. The rowing transport plan is shambolic to say the least."

Rowing Australia is desperate to avoid a repeat of Beijing, when Ginn suffered a prolapsed disc in his back after travelling 50 minutes on an official bus.

After British Rowing gained late approval to change their base for London, RA were able to follow suit for Ginn. Matheson confirmed that RA was searching for accommodation closer to Eton Dorney.

A spokesman for British rowing said: "I think what we have done is just good planning. Other nations had the option to do that planning as well."