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Japanese Climbing Federation Loses Lawsuit Against IFSC

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A year ago, the Japan Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Association (JMSCA) sued the IFSC over Olympic qualification assignments to Japanese athletes Miho Nonaka and Kai Harada. The lawsuit (originally covered here) was based on differing qualification systems from the JMSCA and the IFSC. This morning, December 14, the IFSC released a press release stating that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has dismissed the appeals filed by the JMSCA. The result: Nonaka and Harada maintain their Olympic qualifications.

The JMSCA filed the lawsuit in keeping with its own qualification process, in which only the top placing male and female Japanese athletes at the Hachioji World Championships (Akiyo Noguchi and Tomoa Narsaki) would be given Olympic berths. Japan’s remaining quota could then be assigned to top placing athletes from the Olympic qualifying event in Toulouse and at the Asian Continental Championships. According to the IFSC rulebook, however; all top placing athletes at the World Championships would qualify for the Olympics, so long as the county’s quota was not surpassed. The CAS ruled in the IFSC’s favor.

The IFSC stated in the press release: “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.”

The JMSCA released this statement: “We feel we did what we had to do as the sport’s [national] governing body in filing a lawsuit with the CAS. But we sincerely apologize that the path for climbers, who under our criteria could still possibly qualify for the Olympics, has been cut.”

The year-long lawsuit left a pool of Japanese athletes unsure of Olympic qualification. 

Miho stated on Instagram (translated by Google): “So far, I haven’t touched on the issue of Olympic athlete selection between JMSCA and IFSC on my personal SNS 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. … 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 player selection was not what I wanted, but since I was officially selected, I would like to be prepared and do my best to reach my goal.”

Harada, at the 2019 Hachioji World Championships. Image by Eddie Fowke/IFSC

Harada voiced a similar sentiment. He 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.”

In the press release, IFSC President Marco Scolaris said: “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.”

This past weekend, the final pathway for Asian athletes’ qualification was supposed to occur: the Asian Continental Championships. The competition, however, did not take place due to travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Because the event did not occur, the Olympic spots will go to the next eligible athletes that placed the highest in the Hachioji World Championships: Jongwon Chon (KOR) and Chaehyun Seo (KOR). The IFSC has yet to officially announced this. 

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