Ireland made history in 2019 when its riders secured the nation’s first ever team spot in the Olympic dressage competition, as a result of their performance at the European Championships in Rotterdam.
But cold water has been thrown on the excitement of Ireland’s fielding a team in all three equestrian disciplines at the Tokyo Games following an announcement from Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) last night (21 June).
The statement said HSI’s dressage high performance director Johann Hinnermann “has taken the decision not to nominate a dressage team” to the Olympic Federation of Ireland for Tokyo.
The news has been met with frustration, and an appeal has since been lodged.
The HSI statement added: “This decision was taken as several key members of the Irish team that had qualified for the Games are unfortunately no longer available for selection due to a combination of horse retirement, veterinary and medical reasons.”
Judy Reynolds, Ireland’s leading dressage rider, was ruled out of the Games when she announced the retirement of her Rio Olympic partner Vancouver K. Kate Dwyer has withdrawn from selection, as she is pregnant, and Anna Merveldt is also out of contention.
But there are enough combinations who have achieved the Olympic minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) for the nation to field a team.
Irish Olympic contender Dane Rawlins, who is appealing the decision, told H&H this is “bitterly disappointing” when you “think your chance has come”.
“We are fit, our horses are fit and prepared – we are eligible and qualified and want to go,” he said.
“The sport in Ireland has grown so much that even though we have lost out leading lights we have a second team.
“We are all very supportive of dressage in Ireland and Dressage Ireland is very supportive of us.”
He added that they are a strong second side, and the Olympic contenders have been travelling across nations to shows to prove themselves and have achieved the MERs – only to now be told they cannot go.
“It’s a real shame to have lost the leading lights, because they all deserved their place,” he said, adding that this is a part of sport. “But that means that nobody else gets to go?
“The Olympics particularly are about participation – the whole idea of the new rules having three on a team is to increase participation.”
He said allowing the Irish team the chance to go to Tokyo is as much about the future of the sport in the country as it is about the riders who have worked to get there.
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The HSI statement continued: “In consideration of the remaining qualified combinations, the dressage high performance director (HPD), Johann Hinnemann reviewed his Olympic nominations policy for dressage as against the combinations available.
“Director Hinnemann advised the board that two combinations have not met the specific criteria as set by the HPD, and as such, the HPD is not in a position to nominate these combinations. The resulting consequence being a team of three athlete/horse combinations cannot be fulfilled.
“The board of Horse Sport Ireland has decided, following careful deliberation, to accept the technical guidance of the HPD and formally withdraw the dressage team quota allocation with the national Olympic federation, and our international federation, the FEI.
“This difficult decision was founded on rational performance considerations and an informed technical position of our retained dressage expert Johann Hinnemann.
“Horse Sport Ireland understands that the IRL qualified combinations will be eligible pursuant to the reallocation of individual quota places, and that one individual Olympic quota place may be offered to IRL. Horse Sport Ireland understands that a final decision on the of reallocation of individual places will be known later this week. If this is the case, Horse Sport Ireland intends to avail of this position.”
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