Team GB grapples with a big problem: most of its wrestlers are not yet British
Head of sport's governing body picks a fight over our Eastern European recruits for 2012
Saturday 10 December 2011
Judging by the size, speed and athleticism of the men and women hurling themselves around the Excel centre in London yesterday, there may be more choice sporting bodies to get on the wrong side of than the international wrestling federation.
The world of wrestling is an unfamiliar one to most Britons, so much so that the body charged with assembling a home team for next year's Olympic Games has sought reinforcements from eastern Europe. But wrapping British wrestling in a flag-of-convenience has not gone down well with the man who runs the sport globally.
Yesterday Raphael Martinetti, the president of the international wrestling federation, took on the host nation, attacking the decision to fill the British team with naturalised wrestlers. Mr Martinetti said: "I think this is no good for the country."
Mr Martinetti was speaking at the Excel centre in London's docklands at the latest of a series of test events for the 2012 Games. The British team are taking part in this weekend's wrestling invitational and was supposed to be introduced to the media yesterday only for sheepish officials from Locog, the Games' organisers, to announce that there had been a late change of mind.
In their place Colin Nicholson, British wrestling's chief executive, fought a rearguard action on his team's behalf. "Everyone wants them to be doing their best and their best is to stick to their training routines," he said in explanation of their no-show. It was later put down to language problems as well.
Britain's two best female wrestlers, Olga Butkevych and Yana Stadnik, both medal prospects, do not qualify for British passports until early next year and then have to go through the Home Office application process in time to meet the sport's qualification process and then the British Olympic Association's selection criteria.
Mr Martinetti said: "If they don't have a British passport by [May] then we say bye-bye. Mr Nicholson said: "British wrestling remains optimistic about the naturalisation process."
Of the 12 British athletes scheduled to compete this weekend, seven have been born and brought up abroad. A number of them first arrived in this country in 2006 to act as "training" partners for local fighters at the Salford home of British wrestling.
As host nation Britain can enter teams in all Olympic events. The idea of recruiting athletes from other countries is nothing new. The South African Zola Budd ran for Britain in the 1984 Olympics after being handed a passport in a hurry following a newspaper campaign.
From Ukraine with love: meet our team
Born in Bulgaria, the 29-year-old moved to Britain in 2006. Finished fifth in the 2009 world championships.
Born in Ukraine, he won Commonwealth gold for England last year. Competes in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Another Ukrainian and another product of British coach Mykola Kornieiev's policy of looking to his homeland to recruit sparring partners for his local charges. Like others, Madyarchyk has stayed put and won bronze in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The talented Ukrainian qualifies for a British passport in February. Her brother Andriy is set to compete for Ukraine next year, her sister-in-law for Azerbaijan.
Another Ukrainian still to qualify for a British passport. Won a bronze medal at the European championships this year.
... and a couple of Brits
One of two British-born athletes on wrestling's world-class performance programme, along with Leon Rattigan, Stadnik's boyfriend.
Olympic rules: how to qualify
The British Olympic Association oversees selection for Team GB with the guidance of the governing bodies from each Olympic sport. All selected athletes must be full British passport holders and not have served any bans for doping. They also have to meet performance criteria that varies from sport to sport. The deadline for sports to have their nominations for selection with the BOA is 1 June, 2012. The wrestling selectors meet on 10 May.
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