Ireland fails in legal bid to secure Olympic showjumping spot

Cian O'Connor and Good Luck at the 2015 European Championships.
Cian O’Connor and Good Luck at the 2015 European Championships. © Sportfoto

Ireland has lost its legal bid to get its showjumping team to this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janiero.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected an appeal lodged over a bizarre field-of-play incident during a crucial contest in Germany last August that decided the last Olympic spots.

The Irish team belived it was on course at the European Championships in Aachen, Germany, to qualify for the 2016 Games when a member of the arena fence crew ran in front of Cian O’Connor’s horse, Good Luck.

O’Connor and Good Luck pressed on, knocking the next fence. 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, whose members ruled that as the athlete had continued his round, they saw no reason to stop him by ringing the bell.

Horse Sport Ireland and O’Connor pursued the matter through official channels all the way to the CAS, the highest court in the world for sporting matters.

The court released a brief statement on Monday saying that it had dismissed the appeal, upholding the decision of the FEI Appeal Committee from August 22 last year.

The FEI Appeal Committee’s decision had confirmed an earlier decision taken by the Ground Jury at the Aachen event over the protest lodged by the Irish team. The Ground Jury dismissed the protest.

The results obtained on the course that day would stand.

The court panel, comprising Jeffrey Benz, Philippe Sands QC, and Nicholas Stewart QC, heard the appeal on December 16. At this stage only the final decision has been released. The grounds for their ruling will follow in coming weeks.

Horse Sport Ireland’s chief executive, Damian McDonald, expressed disappointment over the outcome.

“We felt that we had made a strong case and we are very disappointed with the outcome. We will await the full reasoned judgment before making any further comment on the outcome.”

O’Connor labelled the outcome disappointing news.

“I have no regrets. I tried everything possible and left no stone unturned in trying to seek fairness for what I feel was an unsporting decision made by the ground jury in Aachen.

“It’s time to move on and refocus on the sport rather than getting caught up further in bureaucracy and even more angry with officialdom.

“Team Ireland are first reserve because of the good performance at the World Equestrian Games in 2014 so there is always a chance that we will get there yet, so best to keep aiming for it, I guess.”

O’Connor said it was another interesting chapter for his book “when I get round to it”.

“I look forward to telling the no-holds-barred version!”

The FEI’s secretary general, Sabrina Ibáñez, said she was happy that the CAS had confirmed the decision of the FEI Appeal Committee.

“This was a field of play issue that was covered by FEI rules, so the CAS ruling upholding the decision made at the time is an important one for the FEI.”

Ibáñez said the ruling meant that the results from Aachen remained unchanged, with Ireland finishing seventh overall.

Horse Sport Ireland’s chairman, Pat Wall, had earlier labelled the actions of the official a freak incident.

“We are convinced that if this incident had not happened, the Irish show jumping team would be going to the Olympics.”

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