SCOTLAND’S top fencer says he was ditched from the Olympic team – because he refused to move to London.
Keith Cook – who ranked number four in the UK for six years – said he was pressurised to live and train in the capital but refused as he was caring for his badly-injured mother.
Cook, who is a five-times Commonwealth Games medallist, alleges team bosses took revenge by dropping him from the Olympic squad.
The athlete from Edinburgh is appealing the decision after fencing officials left him out of the seven-strong team, even though he is currently ranked fifth in the UK.
Team managers have blamed the situation on Cook not leaving them an email address for communication.
The row is doubling embarrassing for the UK’s Olympic squad because Cook, 31, was one of only 12 athletes – alongside David Beckham and Zara Phillips – picked as a Samsung Ambassador for the games.
Cook, who recently revealed he was inspired by the Star Wars movies to take up fencing, was part of the “Olympic Pathway” programme which provides big name sponsors to pay for travel, accommodation and equipment.
The fencer was required to spend three days a week in London and says he was pressured to increase that to five days a week.
But he was forced to quit the Pathway altogether in 2010 after his mother suffered spinal cord injuries in an accident. Cook became a carer to his mother at her home in Pilton, Edinburgh, as well as training for the Olympics.
Keith said today: “My head is spinning with all of this.
“I had no choice but to leave the Olympic Pathway in 2010 after my mum became disabled. I loved it but there was a lot of pressure on my family and I needed to come home to look after my mum. I also have two young children who live in Scotland and it was all getting too much.
“There was a lot of pressure on me to move down to London when I was part of the programme and I was already travelling down for three days in every week.”
He added: “All of the fencers in the top eight are on the Olympic Pathway except me.
“The bosses don’t like that I self-fund my travel and expenses and that I still rank highly, it doesn’t look good for them as they are spending millions of pounds every year, and it doesn’t look good for their sponsors.”
Keith claims he was left out of international competitions, including an important event in Japan this year, after leaving the programme.
He said: “I was injured this year from January to March, but was still ranked fourth during the official Olympic selection. I dropped into fifth place due to the injury and was not selected for an international event in Japan – even though they were entitled to a take team of eight and I would have self-funded my trip.
“The whole thing is embarrassing for them. They are spending millions of pounds on the Pathway athletes and I am still doing well. I’m not part of the system, I haven’t sold my image rights and they don’t like it.”
Cook was told on Monday that he had not been selected for the team because he failed to provide British Fencing officials with any contact details, as set out in Section 13 of the selection policy document, and the deadline for any appeal had passed.
The chief executive, Piers Martin, explained in an email to Cook that because the Section 13 information was not received, British Fencing “did not consider that you wanted to be considered for selection”.
Keith said: “The whole situation sounds bad and it is bad. It’s what I have had to put up with since leaving the pathway. They are the ones in the wrong. I can sleep soundly at night knowing I am not in the wrong.”
Speaking of the incident earlier today, Graham Paul, former Chairman of the British Fencing, International Committee, said he sympathised with Keith.
He said: “From the outset we wanted to have a system that allowed fencers to ensure that the selectors were making the decisions based on all the relevant information. This was a very important part of the scheme, which was designed to try to reduce the possibility of appeals.
“I am therefore astounded that BF fencing failed to send Keith a copy of the results and information being supplied to the selectors.
“If this is the case, then clearly BF has failed to follow the correct procedure. I would have thought that the selectors must re-convene to consider any information that they did not have at their original meeting. It may even be that the selectors are now fatally compromised as it always difficult to reverse a decision, and we need a new group of selectors. I can understand and sympathise Keith’s frustration at this shambles.”
Keith added: “If the appeal fails I will still continue fencing and I will still be aiming for the Olympic Games in Rio. I’m just a fencer and I am not used to the politics of it all. It’s incredible getting tweets from people supporting me and I am also grateful that Samsung have come out and said they will stand by me.”