Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics

FILE PHOTO: Alpine Skiing - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Men's Slalom - Yongpyong Alpine Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 22, 2018 - Shannon Abeda of Eritrea competes. 

YANQING, China — Skier Shannon Abeda, competing for Eritrea in his second Olympics, hopes to see more diversity in an overwhelmingly white sport, but worries that the backlash over the qualification of some nations is tainting a diversity push in Alpine events.

Ahead of the Beijing Games, new rules were intended to improve access for women as well as athletes from non-traditional skiing nations. While the Olympics features skiers from several first-time competitors, the integrity of some qualifying events was called into question by rivals from established Alpine powers.

“Representation at the Olympics is important and smaller countries should have the right to participate,” said the Canadian-born Abeda, who will hope to top his 61st place finish in the giant slalom at Pyeongchang in 2018.

“Unfortunately, a few athletes made some questionable and ethically poor decisions by attending races that were intentionally set up in such way to circumvent the system,” said Abeda, whose parents left war-torn Eritrea during the 1980s.

Bigger nations that lose their place quotas as a result “have a right to be upset,” he said.

Last month, Reuters reported that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted extra quota places for male Alpine skiers from Austria, France, and Germany, as some unspecified qualifying events held under the authority of the International Ski Federation (FIS) were “under review”.

“It goes without saying that things must be improved,” FIS President Johan Eliasch said on the sidelines of the men’s combined race at the National Alpine Skiing Center in Yanqing on Thursday, referring to complaints about quotas.

“We’re working on formulas which will make it a really level playing field for the athletes and giving as many people, many athletes, the opportunity to participate at the same time.”

Abeda said the situation is disappointing.

“It has tainted the image for smaller nations, all due to the dishonest actions of a few,” he said.

Abeda says he has good relationships with some skiers from traditional Alpine nations that he has known for years.

“However, the hostility is present and I’ve heard of incidents and I myself had a poor interaction with a member of a well-known nation a few days ago,” he said.

Benjamin Alexander, 38, began skiing six years ago while DJing at a heliskiing party in western Canada and will represent Jamaica after qualifying through one of the events that has been questioned by others. But, he said, the FIS had not found any issues.

The FIS has said that its investigation is ongoing.

Alexander said the IOC sets a threshold for each country’s first competitor at “a very attainable level.”

“I’m sure they are thrilled with the record number of countries participating. The whole world should be celebrating increased diversity in these games,” he told Reuters.

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