The hearing that will decide whether Ireland’s showjumping team will take a place at next year’s Rio Olympics will take place next week.
The Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will hear the appeal by Horse Sport Ireland and rider Cian O’Connor next Wednesday.
The Irish team belived it was on course at the European Championships in Aachen, Germany, last August to qualify for the 2016 Games when a steward ran in front of O’Connor’s horse, Good Luck.
O’Connor and Good Luck pressed on, knocking the fence they were about to jump. The four faults incurred resulted in Ireland missing out on Olympic qualification by less than one fault, with Spain taking the spot.
A protest lodged by Irish chef d’equipe Robert Splaine and O’Connor was heard by the Ground Jury, who ruled that as the athlete had continued his round, they saw no reason to stop him by ringing the bell.
The FEI subsequently said in a statement: “Under Article 233.3 of the FEI Jumping Rules, the athlete had the opportunity to stop voluntarily due to unforeseen circumstances beyond his control, however he did not do so.”
The Ground Jury heard explanations from Robert Splaine and Cian O’Connor, reviewed video footage of the incident, and ruled that the result would stand.
Splaine and O’Connor then appealed that decision to the Appeal Committee. The FEI said: “After a further full review of the incident, including hearing statements from all parties, the Appeal Committee ruled that the athlete had been given a full and complete right to be heard and stated that it would not overrule the Ground Jury on a field of play decision. As a result, the Appeal Committee rejected the appeal and upheld the Ground Jury decision.”
Horse Sport Ireland chief executive Damian McDonald indicated in the days following Aachen that his organisation might take the case as far as the CAS, which is the highest sporting court in the world.
Horse Sport Ireland’s legal team for the hearing will be led by Martin Hayden. He will be supported by barrister David Casserly, who is an expert CAS Counsel, along with Joe Fitzpatrick and Eamon Carey, from Smithwick Solicitors.
“To have a Showjumping team at the Olympic Games is very important for Ireland,” Horse Sport Ireland chairman Pat Wall said.
“Our riders and their owners are doing a huge amount to promote Ireland as a world leader in the sport of showjumping.
“They went to the European Championships to pursue their Olympic dream. A freak incident occurred on the day which hindered our efforts. All we are looking for is fair play.
“We are convinced that if this incident had not happened, the Irish show jumping team would be going to the Olympics.”
The Irish Eventing Team had already qualified for the Olympic Games. Wall said it would be a great boost to the whole sector to have two Irish teams in Rio.
“Judy Reynolds has also been doing brilliantly in dressage, so we have a great chance a securing a place in dressage also,” Wall said.
“To have a full showjumping team there, with the prospect of securing medals, would be the icing on the cake.”