‘The sport has lost’: Tokyo dream at an end for Irish dressage team

  • Hope is fading in the fight for the Irish dressage team’s place at the Tokyo Olympics as a further appeal is dismissed.

    Tokyo marked the first time Ireland had qualified a dressage team for an Olympics, but news broke on 21 June – the deadline day for Olympic entries – that Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) had decided not to take up the place.

    The decision, which was attributed to HSI’s dressage high performance director Johann Hinnemann and accepted by the HSI board, was met with backlash. While several of Ireland’s “leading lights” are not available for the Games, there are enough combinations who have achieved the Olympic minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) to compete.

    The case hinged on Mr Hinnemann’s decision, which the original HSI release said was because two combinations had not met extra criteria set by Mr Hinnemann in addition to the Olympic MERs.

    Riders Dane Rawlins and James Connor launched an appeal over the decision, which found partly in their favour but ultimately upheld the HSI standpoint not to send a team. The pair then challenged the decision by independent arbitrator Dermot Kelly SC last week. But it was announced on Friday evening (2 July) that this second appeal was also unsuccessful.

    “We lost. Thanks for the support. Time to move on,” Dane said on social media that night.

    Dressage Ireland chairman Marguerite Kavanagh added that “there are no winners”.

    “The sport has lost and fair play for riders to make a timely appeal disregarded,” she said.

    “However in the appellants bringing the case it will help ensure that more thought is given in the future and processes correctly followed to ensure fairness in all aspects of governance relating to our sport into the future.”

    An HSI statement said the organisation “welcomes the decision of David Sharpe SC, the independent arbitrator nominated by Sport Dispute Solutions Ireland, to uphold the decision of Horse Sport Ireland with regard to the dressage team event at the Tokyo Olympics.”

    “The independent arbitrator dismissed the appeal of both Mr Rawlings and Mr Connor. This is the second independent arbitrator to dismiss their appeal in the last 72 hours,” it added.

    “The arbitrator found that the selection process was conducted fairly… In the arbitrator’s view there was an athlete nomination policy in place and the requirements in the nomination policy were simply not met. Any suggestion that the process was unfair was not made out.”

    The statement added that the Olympic selection process has been in place since 2019 and was “widely communicated to all relevant athletes”.

    “In the interests of the dressage community and the sport horse industry, Horse Sport Ireland waived its right to seek costs in the matter,” it concluded.

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    Any final hope rests on Dressage Ireland’s plea to Ireland’s minister for sport or the Olympic Council to intervene in time for today’s (5 July) deadline for definite entries for the Games.

    As it currently stands, Ireland’s team spot has passed to Belgium, who last fielded an Olympic dressage team in 1928. Ireland retains an individual place, with Heike Holstein and Sambuca named on the FEI’s nominated entries list as of 29 June.

    The Tokyo Olympic Games open on 23 July, with the first day of Olympic dressage competition being the grand prix on 24 July.

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