In the wake of the controversies surrounding Jamaica's men's 4x100m relay team at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, veteran track and field Coach Glen Mills is calling on the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) to amend its selection policy to ensure greater clarity and control for coaches on national duty.
Jamaica's relay selection policy was thrown under the microscope after Tyquendo Tracey, who was selected to the team as a member of the 4x100m relay pool, took to social media to blast the Jamaican coaching staff in Budapest for what he described as a bias against him and favouritism towards another athlete, who was reportedly being considered to run on the team, despite not initially being named to the squad.
Tracey, who finished fifth in the 100m at the National Senior Championships (Trials) — the primary qualifier for major games, was expecting to feature at least in the heats of the event at the World Championships but was angered by news that his presumed spot on the team was to be taken by Kadrian Goldson, who finished seventh at Trials.
In the end, after a public spat between Tracey and Technical Leader Maurice Wilson, who incidentally coaches Goldson at the club level, the top four finishers at Trials — Rohan Watson, Ryiem Forde, Oblique Seville, and Ackeem Blake — were selected to run the heat and final at the World Championships, where they eventually won the bronze medal.
Mills believes the exchange was avoidable and is a result of a misunderstanding of the selection criteria as a result of precedence.
"I thought it was unfortunate, but when you're examining it, there was no need for all that took place because the controversy surrounds the so-called exclusion of one member of the squad. Now the JAAA rules, as it stands, do give some amount of flexibility, but I think it needs to go further in not just allowing flexibility but expressing definitively how the squad can be made up and what it means to be a member of the squad," Mills told the Jamaica Observer during a recent sit-down.
"Where I think the misunderstanding or the creation of conflict or whatever is from is that the persons who finish from first to sixth are of the impression that they must run. I think because of a precedent that the relay team was always selected from the squad of six, but that doesn't exist anymore among the big countries. I mean, for years now America has been putting together what they think is the best team and they don't care where [which event or position] you come from," Mills added.
The JAAA Selection Policy currently states: "Athletes placing in the first four positions in the 100m and 400m (At National Senior Championships) will be named to the relay pool. The remaining members of the relay pool will be selected by the JAAA Selection Committee. As mandated by World Athletics, athletes who are selected to run individual 100m/400m are automatic members of the relay pool."
Mills pointed out that although the rule does not state that any member of the pool has a right to run, he believes that the policy should go further to underline that selections are solely up to the discretion of the coaching team.
"A squad is going to exceed four people and it, therefore, means that, depending on the size of the squad, whether it's six or eight, everyone will not get a chance to run, that's a given. So if a person does not get a chance to run, it doesn't mean that because you didn't run there's a bias or an intention to rob you of your right, etcetera. The selection policy should state explicitly that the coaches are the final arbiters and decision-makers on which four will represent the country in any and all of the rounds," Mills shared.
"Now the policy should also remove the fact that World Athletics says that the first three must be in the squad, but it needs to be stated explicitly that anybody from the squad can make up the four. So what it does mean is that although you might be in the top three, you don't have to run."
The 74-year-old, who for over two decades served as head coach of Jamaica's teams to several Olympic Games and World Championships before stepping down in 2009, noted that coaches should not be obligated to select athletes for relays solely on their performance at the National Championships as form and other factors can change during the weeks between the Trials and the actual championship.
"One of the problems that confront the management is that Trials is usually a month or so before the championship. The top three athletes who actually run the flat races, you can see their current form. The other members of the squad, some of them are inactive. Now, when you look at current performances from those who are not in the top three but who are performing, you will see performances that are far better than what happened a month ago. And the fact that that exists means it should be made possible for coaches to select the best four based on current health and performance," Mills reasoned.