The chances of Aaron Cook and the British Olympic Association becoming embroiled in a legal battle in the build-up to the London Olympic Games increased yesterday when the taekwondo world No 1's representatives said a letter outlining their case against his non-selection would be delivered to the BOA in the next 24 hours.
It will be the first step towards action at the Court of Arbitration for Sport or the high court. Cook will have to decide by Monday whether to go to court, in order to secure a decision before the Games. The International Olympic Committee deadline for selection is 6 July.
"We know it's not an easy path but until it's dead we are not going to give up on this one," said Jamie Cunningham, Cook's manager. Michael Beloff QC, one of Britain's prominent sports lawyers and a former member of CAS, has been advising Cook.
Speaking for the first time since the controversy began, Cook, looking pale and tired, said the last two weeks had been the "hardest of his life". "I don't want to be here. I'm just an athlete. I feel let down, extremely frustrated, angry," said the 21-year-old. "I've had to keep the training up because in my mind I'm still going to be competing in the Olympics – that's my dream. I hope I will be there because I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I have been cheated."
Cook said he would consider a fight-off with Lutalo Muhammad, the chosen athlete in the -80kg category. Cunningham has floated the idea with the World Taekwondo Federation that Cook be included as a 17th athlete in the competition and face Muhammad in a preliminary round. If the WTF agreed, the IOC would be unlikely to sanction it.
Cook was overlooked for selection despite being the European champion at -80kg and having won nine of his last 12 events. Muhammad, the European champion at -87kg, has not won a competition at the Olympic weight. Cook left British Taekwondo's elite training programme a year ago. Three times BT refused to change its selection of Muhammad, despite requests from the BOA to repeat the process.
"They are not happy that I left their coaching," said Cook. "My non-selection was because I'm not in the [programme]."
He was also critical of the BOA after he and his representatives learnt the news of last Friday's decision to ratify Muhammad's selection via Twitter. He said: "I was really disappointed with the BOA decision last week. The BOA gave up fighting for me."
Cook is funding the case through sponsorship that he has received to help him make the Games. Since leaving the funded BT programme a year ago, Cook, who trains in a shed in his parents' garden, has raised more than £100,000 to pay for his bid to compete at the Olympics.
Outside the courts, Cook's other hope is that the WTF finds fault with the selection process. With the sport's place in the Games up for review next year, the WTF is concerned over the impression the Cook affair is making at the IOC. The BOA has given itself a get-out clause, to review their ratification of Muhammad, depending on the outcome of the WTF's inquiry.
"We want the BOA to seriously consider what is the right plan to find a solution from here," said Cunningham. "They are going to have our arguments as to why we are going to pursue this legally. We don't want to do that – it's a major step for an athlete to challenge their Olympic association. Their decision just doesn't wash. We urge the BOA not to make Aaron Cook a victim of a flawed selection process."
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