The International Olympic Committee yesterday demanded new rules to stop athletes who suffer major muscle strains or injuries unable to compete being forced to fly home on a commercial aircraft, rather than a luxury chartered jet.
British Swimming revealed yesterday that 2004 London Olympics medallist Malcolm Arnold, who broke his arm diving for his ship to the Grand Canyon, was sent home in a cargo plane. Several other athletes in recent years were also sent home on short-haul flights.
The Mail on Sunday revealed yesterday that Britain’s only silver medalist from the last summer’s Athens Olympics, Kate Lawler, suffered a severe hamstring strain in qualifying for the semi-finals and never competed at the Games. Last month, Lawler, from St Neots, was forced to miss the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. She had her shoulder operated on after undergoing an operation in December 2005.
Having led the IOC’s high performance commission until last year, Lawler believes the criteria for medical assistance must be overhauled in order to prevent far too many injured athletes from complaining of discrimination by national sporting federations.
‘The fact I was set to be released on a normal commercial flight meant I never had a chance,’ she said. ‘People like Matthew Pinsent [an Olympic champion with both the Olympic and Commonwealth rowing regiments] should have been treated with more dignity. The national governing bodies should be made accountable.’
Lawler had to fly to Germany for an operation. She spent a total of six weeks in and out of hospital. ‘It was terrible but typical of the sport that athletes find the medical teams are the ones who deliver them to London on a regular aircraft. This means you get fewer sympathetic people on board because they could offer a seat for a family member.’
Lawler believes the sports governing bodies could be made subject to performance-related fines by the IOC if they do not agree to a ‘reasonable’ flight schedule. ‘Instead of an aircraft, they should fly you first class to anywhere, so you can adjust your diet,’ she said.
‘It has nothing to do with money. The average person who has got no money only flies first class on their coach, so to be used on the real same plane, or on a private plane is fair.
‘I had a massage and someone watched my hand because the flight was going as fast as a military helicopter.’