Japan Lose Olympic Quota Place Lawsuit, and Asian Championships Cancelled

© Eddie Fowke/IFSC

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled against both appeals of the Japan Mountaineering and Climbing Association (JMSCA)'s lawsuit to sue the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) over the clarity of an Olympic Qualification pathway rule. As a result, Miho Nonaka and Kai Harada will retain their quota places following uncertainty as to their status. Meanwhile, on a separate note, the postponed IFSC Asian Championships - scheduled to take place last weekend - were cancelled as no country could host the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miho Nonaka competing in Hachioji, Japan, where she earned her Olympic berth.  © Eddie Fowke/IFSC
Miho Nonaka competing in Hachioji, Japan, where she earned her Olympic berth.
© Eddie Fowke/IFSC

Although the finer details of the lawsuit have not been made public, it appears that the IFSC's Host Place rule was not considered to be sufficiently explicit and was ultimately misinterpreted by the JMSCA, leading to plans for a Japanese athlete 'pool' framework on the basis of a 'guaranteed' spot open to their choice following a separate, domestic competition for any number of Japanese athletes who attain an Olympic qualifying position (read our UKC article for an in-depth explanation of the qualification pathway, the Host Place rule and the JMSCA's argument).

Following the IFSC Combined World Championships in Hachioji in August 2019, four Japanese athletes per sex reached Olympic qualifying placings, but due to the country quota of two, only the two highest-ranked athletes could qualify according to IOC rules.

Akiyo Noguchi (JPN) and Tomoa Narasaki (JPN) were reported as being the JMSCA's first quota place selections, based on their top-ranking performances in the Combined final (2nd and 1st in the event respectively) within the Japanese team.

In-keeping with the JMSCA's announcement that only one Japanese athlete per sex would be chosen from Hachioji, it was widely reported online that the JMSCA were delaying immediate selection of Miho Nonaka and Kai Harada - the next highest-ranking Japanese athletes in Hachioji - and instead forcing them to compete for the second confirmed Japanese Olympic quota place in a national selection event this year, alongside any eligible athletes with quota places from Toulouse and the (now cancelled) Asian Championships.

However, in the list of confirmed Olympic-qualified athletes, published on 4th November 2019 on the IFSC website, both Nonaka and Harada are named. When asked about their inclusion in the list - which until this point had been unconfirmed and by and large not expected by the online community - the IFSC told UKC:

'Japan claimed both of their two men and women athlete places at the same time, immediately after the World Championships in Hachioji.'

The JMSCA had put forward four athletes to the Japanese Olympic Committee, who had confirmed their - unchangeable - quota places, while still claiming to be able to decide their second spots closer to the Games internally.

In a press release, the IFSC commented:

'The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) welcomes the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which has dismissed in their entirety both appeals filed by the Japan Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Association (JMSCA) against the IFSC Qualification System application.

The resolution of this procedure closes a painful chapter, one that, for the first time in history, saw the National Federation of the country hosting the Olympic Games appeal against the qualification of two of its own athletes. As a result of this decision, the integrity and fairness of the IFSC Qualification System, as approved by the IOC, have been confirmed.

In spite of the favourable outcome, the IFSC remains committed to improving relationships with all its stakeholders going forward and will always put the athletes first.

The IFSC regrets the unilateral communications disruption caused by the JMSCA in late 2019, which resulted in a deplorable waste of resources.'

IFSC President Marco Scolaris added:

'All qualified athletes are now protected – this is what counts. Now it is time to focus on sport, and face the challenges brought about by the pandemic, A new year will soon be upon us, and our participation at the next two Olympic Games is confirmed.'

The delay in confirmation has left members of the Japan Climbing Team in limbo in what has been testing year all-round due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing on Instagram, Miho Nonaka commented (translated by Google):

'So far, I haven't touched on the issue of Olympic athlete selection between JMSCA and IFSC on my personal social media at all, but I would like to report again on the results that have been discussed for a long time. Based on the results of the 2019 World Championship (Hachioji) tournament, the top two final results (Akiyo Noguchi, myself) will be selected from the four Japanese who participated in the final in the Combined event.

It's been a year since that tournament, no, more than a year ...
I am very happy that the results have finally been announced and I have decided to participate in the Olympic Games.
But at the same time, I feel very complicated. An athlete who has been swayed by problems caused by misjudgment between associations for a long time. The stress felt by other players, not just me, is immeasurable. It's not easy to stay motivated and have potential and hope for the unseen future (including Corona). There was a long time of such anxiety ...
Since climbing was selected for the Olympic Games, there have been so many things that have changed, for better or for worse, that have gone far beyond my imagination. Based on this, I hope that the climbing competition will continue to grow so that such problems will not occur to athletes again.

The announcement of the athlete selection was not what I wanted, but since I was officially selected, I will do my best to reach my goal.'

Kai Harada told The Japan Times:

'I'm relieved a conclusion has been reached, first of all. But it's not something I can be wholeheartedly happy about. I don't want anyone to go through the same kind of situation in the future.'

The lawsuit has meant that four other Japanese athletes have been equally uncertain as to their chances of earning a place since the Hachioji event in August 2019. Ai Mori, Futaba Ito, Meichi Narasaki and Kokoro Fujii made Combined finals in both Hachioji and Toulouse qualifying events and were believed to be eligible to compete for the second spots under the JMSCA's initial plan.

In an announcement on the JMSCA website, the governing body said: (translated by Google):

'JMSCA did its best in arbitration at CAS so that it could select the Japanese national team in accordance with the domestic selection criteria, but unfortunately it did not work and our request was not accepted.

'We believe that the complaint to CAS has done what we should do as a central sports organisation, but according to domestic selection criteria, the path to the Olympics for athletes who may participate in the Olympics has been cut off. In addition, we deeply apologise for leaving the athletes and other related parties in an unstable situation for a long period of time due to the spread of the new coronavirus infection.'

The Olympic-selective IFSC Asian Championships, which were postponed and scheduled to take place last weekend, were cancelled due to China's sporting event ban and the inability of other nations to hold an event. The Olympic quota places therefore fall back to Hachijoi, where Chaehyun Seo (KOR) and Jongwon Chon (KOR) were the highest-placed eligible Asian athletes.

The IFSC has made no public comment about the cancellation as yet.

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14 Dec, 2020

Seems reasonable that Chaehyun Seo and Jongwon Chon have been given the nod in light of the Asian championships being cancelled but I’m guessing that the cancellation was an unforeseen eventuality. I wonder if anyone else thinks they have an equally reasonable claim to those spots...?

14 Dec, 2020

The IFSC rules were certainly confusing, but I'm glad this was the outcome of the case. It feels more just than the alternative, which was to allow Japan to select preferred athletes at a later point in time, potentially stripping one or more athletes of an honor they won fair and square in the prescribed international competition format.

I just hope we get Olympic climbing in 2021. It's certainly not guaranteed.

14 Dec, 2020

I'm sure there are some other Koreans who thought they might be able to beat Seo and Chon; its highly unlikely that anyone from another country stood much of a chance in a combined comp except for japan, and Japan had already filled its country quota limit.

how unforeseen the cancellation was? not sure, because China made it clear a while ago no big comps / meetings were taking place in 2020, and they were the hosts. The only countries who would realistically be able to host in their place were japan, who already had their max number of competitors, and Korea, who were guaranteed the next 2 spots as per previous quali rules.

Just the African and Oceania champs to go!

15 Dec, 2020

Unlikely I would say, unfortunately.

15 Dec, 2020

According to an official press meeting I attended, the organisers are very much confident that it will happen in some form or another and they are preparing to be able to hold it in the worst case scenario (roughly as things are currently) even without a vaccine, so with the vaccine and 8 months or so down the line they should be able to hold something substantial and relatively 'normal'.

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