April 4, 2008

Australia's Olympic equestrian team has received a $1.5 million boost as its riders prepare for Hong Kong.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, and Minister for Sport Kate Ellis announced the funding which will be made available for the governing body of equestrian sports in the country, the Equestrian Federation of Australia. The funding comes in the aftermath of the recent equine influenza outbreak.

Late last year the decision was made that the Australian Shadow Team riders and their horses would go overseas to prepare and qualify for the Olympic Games. The shutdown of the equestrian industry in Australia had left team officials and riders no other option. The extra expense to the Equestrian Federation and to the riders themselves was, however, of great concern. A request was made to the government for assistance.

"This is a huge boost to our Olympic campaign," said Brett Mace, EFA High Performance Manager.

"The funding will come as welcome relief to the riders who have already left Australia to prepare for Beijing and also for those who are about to leave.

"These riders were making huge personal sacrifices to get to these Olympic Games. This money will now take some of the financial pressure off the riders and allow them to focus on performing at their best."

President of the Equestrian Federation of Australia, Geoff Sinclair applauded the government's proactive response to the situation. He said ministers Burke and Ellis "immediately understood the massive strain and disadvantage to these athletes in one of Australia's gold medal winning sports.

"The whole equestrian community and especially the ntional squads, who are finalising their preparation, thank the Australian Government for understanding the issue and providing decisive support."

Sport minister Kate Ellis said equestrians face substantial costs themselves in preparing for the Olympics, and equine influenza hit them particularly hard. "I understand some riders were talking about selling the horses they have been training for the 2012 London Olympics to fund the 2008 Beijing campaign," she said.

"This would have had a serious impact on our equestrian Olympic chances for future Olympic Games. The Rudd Government is providing equestrians with a leg-up to succeed at the Beijing Games."

President of the Equestrian Federation of Australia Geoff Sinclair welcomed the funding, saying Australian riders were having great difficulty qualifying for the Games following the equine influenza outbreak.

"Minister Burke and Minister Ellis understood the massive strain and disadvantage to these athletes in one of Australia's gold medal-winning sports," Mr Sinclair said.

"The whole equestrian community and especially the National squads, who are finalising their preparation, thank the Australian Government for understand the issue and providing decisive support. Past gold medal winners like [Stuart] Tinney and [Wendy] Schaeffer and other contenders will benefit from the extra training, veterinary care and other support this funding will provide."

Active surveillance has not found any new infected horses since December 2007 and Australia was declared provisionally free of equine influenza on 13 March 2008. Australia is one of the few countries in the world to successfully eradicate equine influenza.