The Foul Side Of Fair Play In A German Court
Craig Lord
There'll be no Fair Play award for Vipa Bernhardt this year, though she has managed, it seems, to wriggle her way on to the German Olympic swimming team from a third place at trials because Anne Poleska swims for a Florida club

Well, there'll be no Fair Play award for Vipa Bernhardt this year, though she has managed, it seems, to wriggle her way on to the German Olympic swimming team from a third place at trials on grounds that will do nothing to contribute to any special team spirit that might have helped Deutschland in Beijing.

Bernhardt won a court injunction forcing the German National Olympic Committee (DOSB) to include her in the squad. Her name was added to the team list today after her action in a state court in Kassel late on Monday, much to the displeasure of DOSB (German Olympic Committee) president Thomas Bach.

The lunacy of the ruling knows no bounds: Bernhardt finished third in the 200m breaststroke at the German national championships in April, just failing to get a top two spot needed to make the team for Beijing. It was then that her Olympic ambitions seized hold of her brain: Anne Poleska, she noticed, had raced for the Coral Springs swimming club in Florida and not a German club - which is against the rules of the German championships. So, obvious conclusion: move over Olympic bronze medallist from 2004 and make way for a swimmer ranked third in Germany against the Olympic spirit of selection trials. Never mind that Poleska is German, has won honours for Germany, finished second at German trials inside the cut.

An executive board meeting will decide on July 20 if another swimmer will be pushed out of the German team by the decision forced by Bernhardt's undeserved Olympic selection. That would surely also be the subject to legal claim.

'I've never seen anything like this before - an athlete trying to box her way onto the team because of a technicality, a mistake by a colleague,' Bach told agency reporters.

Poleska said she had done nothing wrong and was not a member of any club when she swam in the Florida meets. 'I see my position as crystal clear from a legal point of view,' she said. 'I'm not afraid at all that I'll miss the Olympics.'

Michael Wolski, a lawyer and chairman of Bernhardt's club SG Frankfurt which filed the legal challenge on her behalf, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he had presented documents showing Poleska took part in 10 club meets for Coral Springs. 'I cannot imagine she did not know the rules,' Wolski was quoted as saying. 'Everyone knows those rules.' Everyone in swimming also knows that his client is third-best German in the 200m breaststroke this year and will be at the Games on a technicality not because she earned her place fair and square.

Common sense came from head coach Orjan Madsen: Poleska will be in Beijing. 'The fact is that Anne was nominated by the DOSB and already has her Olympic team clothes that she'll be traveling to Beijing in,' he said. Quite right too.

Two questions remaining are simple: will someone really lose their rightful place on the team to accommodate Wolski's warrior?; and how welcome will young Vipa be as she boards the plane to Beijing alongside teammates who earned their place in the normal way with a top 2 finish inside qualifying standard? More complicated is: only two German 200m breaststrokers will be allowed to compete in Beijing under IOC rules. Will it be Bernhardt's backside that gets left on the bench?

This is not the first time that national German law has stood in the way of fair outcome as viewed from a sporting perspective: Astrid Strauss, she of former GDR status, was banned for failing a doping test but continued to race inside a reunified Germany after her international ban because a judge decided it only fair. To the cheat, of course, not anyone else.