Fresh appeal over decision not to send Irish dressage team to Olympics

  • The fight over the Irish dressage team’s place at the Tokyo Olympics continues with just over three weeks to go until the competition starts.

    In a situation that has had seen many twists and turns, a fresh appeal has been launched over the ruling by an independent arbitrator to uphold Horse Sport Ireland’s (HSI) decision not to send an Olympic dressage team to the Games.

    Irish riders made history at the 2019 European Championships, when they qualified for a team place at the Olympics for the first time.

    But HSI announced on 21 June that dressage high performance director Johann Hinnemann had taken the decision not to nominate a dressage team to the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) for the Tokyo Games.

    Irish riders James Connor and Dane Rawlins appealed the decision.

    “We are fit, our horses are fit and prepared – we are eligible and qualified and want to go,” Dane told H&H last week.

    The “lengthy” hearing was held via video link on Monday (28 June) before independent arbitrator Dermot Kelly SC, who upheld HSI’s decision not to send a team.

    “The [dressage high performance director] gave very full and careful consideration to all the factors set out in the nomination policy,” stated Mr Kelly in his decision.

    However the outcome was not entirely straightforward.

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    Dane told H&H that the arbitrator ruled in the riders’ favour over a dispute surrounding minimum eligibility (MER) criteria, meaning that they could be entered. This arose as the riders have all achieved the MERs in order to compete at Tokyo, but HSI had extra selection criteria on top of this that not all combinations have reached.

    But the arbitrator’s decision to uphold the HSI decision not to send a dressage team remains a major stumbling block in combinations’ hopes of a team place at Tokyo. Mr Rawlins said he is appealing this decision.

    As it currently stands, Ireland retains one individual spot, with Heike Holstein and Sambuca named on the FEI’s nominated entries list, dated 29 June.The team place moves instead to Belgium, who last sent a dressage team to an Olympics in 1928.

    “After Ireland renounces team participation in the Olympic Games, and first reserve Luxembourg cannot present the necessary qualifications, Belgium still gets the chance for the second time in history,” said a statement from the Belgian equestrian federation.

    Olympic dressage horses are set to go into quarantine next week and fly on 14 July, with the first day of grand prix held on 24 July.

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