Irish hopes of sending a showjumping team to the Rio Olympics at the 11th hour have been raised following allegations that billionaire rider Oleksandr Onyshchenko (pictured), who bankrolls the Ukraine squad, has committed crimes against the state.
Ukraine anti-corruption department agency NABU alleges he was ringleader of a group which “re-sold” $120million worth of Ukraine-produced gas through a network of fictitious companies. He has denied the allegations.
In the latest twist, yesterday (Tuesday 5 July) the Ukraine parliament voted to waive his immunity from prosecution, to which Onyshchenko argued he was entitled as a parliamentary deputy (the equivalent of a British MP).
Today (Wednesday 6 July) Ihor Zhdanov, Ukraine’s Minister for Youth and Sport, posted on his official Facebook page that he will not sign any “order of inclusion” permitting Onyshchenko to represent Ukraine at the Rio Olympics.
“For me there can be no debate,” wrote Mr Zhdanov. “I cannot imagine a person who is under investigation of suspicion for corruption representing Ukraine at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.”
If Ukraine drops out, Ireland is first in line to take up the space. Ireland missed out on direct qualification for Rio at the 2015 European Championships (see links below).
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Read about Ireland’s qualification journey:
Onyshchenko made his fortune in public utilities following the break-up of the Soviet Union. He worked within FEI rules to recruit foreign nationals to create a competitive Ukraine team, and has purchased many established grand prix horses. Ukraine finished fourth in the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen.
Despite the allegations, Onyshchenko was still included in Ukraine’s nominated entries list on Monday 18 June.
Ukraine has enough listed riders to form an Olympic team in Rio without him. They are Ullrich Kirkhoff (who won the 1996 Olympic individual gold for Germany), Rene Tebbel (also formerly of Germany), Alisa Danilova, Ferenc Szentirmai (ex-Hungary) and Cassio Rivetti (ex-Brazil).
However, their participation might be in doubt if state prosecutors freeze Onyshchenko’s assets. All 13 Ukraine horses entered for Rio are listed on the FEI database as being wholly or part-owned by Onyshchenko, while stabled outside Ukraine with their regular riders.
Other top riders previously recruited to ride for Ukraine include Gregory Wathelet (Belgium) and Katherina Offell (Germany), although neither do so currently.