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NEWS: Dressage Ireland calls for Sports Minister or Olympic Council to intervene
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NEWS: Dressage Ireland calls for Sports Minister or Olympic Council to intervene
on 03 July 2021
Dressage Ireland is calling for either the Olympic Council or the Minister for Sport to step in to help get an Irish Dressage team to Tokyo ahead of Monday deadline

DRESSAGE Ireland today (Saturday) called on the Minister for Sport or the Olympic Council to step in and help get an Irish Dressage team to the Tokyo Olympics.

In a press release issued today, Dressage Ireland said they hoped the 'Minister for Sport or Olympic Council can step in to resolve impasse'.

Dressage Ireland described the failure to send a Dressage team to Tokyo as 'an international embarrassment to Irish equestrian reputation'.

The deadline of Monday, July 5th is looming for Irish riders Dane Rawlins and James Connor after their appeal to Horse Sport Ireland was refused last night (Friday).

A press release from Dressage Ireland stated: "This week has seen the equestrian community in Ireland and abroad embrace the #letthemride campaign on social media. The story behind the hashtag centres around the Olympic dream of two Irish dressage riders and their current appeal against Horse Sport Ireland’s decision not to send them to Tokoyo.

"In 2019, at the FEI European Championships in Rotterdam, Ireland’s first ever dressage team earned an Olympic qualifying spot. Judy Reynolds, Heike Holstein, Anna Merveldt and Kate Dwyer won the heart of the nation and inspired and energised the dressage sphere in Ireland at a level never seen before. This victory elevated Irish dressage to a new level and it’s significance has served as an inspiration and a boost for the sport from preliminary to Grand Prix. The standard of dressage in Ireland has never been so high.

"The original qualified team were not available for selection due to both personal and horse welfare issues. Judy Reynold’s top mount Vancouver K has been retired and she has not attained the required FEI scores on another horse to allow her go forward for selection. Lusitano stallion Esporim, piloted by Anna Merveldt at Rotterdam is unfit to compete and has been withdrawn by his owners. This has left Heike Holstein, who competes with her home-bred Irish mare Sambuca.

"In addition to Holstein, Ireland had two other eligible riders at the time of deciding on Olympic nominations. The FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) sets the international qualification or MER (Minimum Eligibility Criteria) for the Olympics at 66%. This means that riders must achieve scores of at least 66% at International Grand Prix level in a specific time frame. Having achieved this MER both Dane Rawlins and James Connor were ready and willing competitors. The first ever Team for Ireland in Dressage for the Olympics was possible.

"Dane Rawlins and James Connor both of whom have in excess of 100 International starts for Ireland are fit and ready to go. Rawlins attained scores higher than the Olympic MER set by the FEI earlier this year in Doha and Exloo while James obtained scores at Ornago which made them eligible for Olympic consideration.

Shock at decision

"Horse Sport Ireland nominated entries for the showjumping and eventing at the Tokyo Olympics. On the 21st June they elected not to nominate any dressage team to the Olympics. This has left Holstein as the only Irish dressage competitor who will now be competing at individual level. This decision came as a shock both to the equestrian industry and to both Rawlins and Connor. Horse Sport Ireland could have chosen to have a dressage team – they chose not to. They also failed to announce their decision until it was too late for anyone to appeal their decision which seriously questions the governance of the process.

"The decision itself is at odds with past decisions by Horse Sport Ireland who allowed a rider to compete at the World Equestrian games in 2010 with scores lower than 68 or 66%. At the time the decision was applauded as the ethos was to allow eligible athletes to take part. It was celebrated participation by Ireland at such a high level.

Legal action

"This week Rawlins and Connor, represented by Jordan Law took legal action and made an appeal to the Olympic Federation of Ireland. This legal action resulted firstly in Horse Sport Ireland making a u-turn and agreeing to the filing of certificates of competency with OFI for the two riders.

The hearing of the initial appeal took place on the 28th June where appointed independent arbitrator Mr. Dermot Kelly SC found in favour of Horse Sport Ireland. While this appeal was won on the grounds that a process was followed by Horse Sport Ireland, the procedure itself is thought to be flawed and a second appeal to challenge that process is underway.

“The board of Dressage Ireland are fully behind both Dane and James in their appeal, Chairperson Marguerite McSweeney is happy to point out, “Dressage Ireland members were delighted to think the first ever team was heading to the Olympics. We are shocked at the stance taken by Horse Sport Ireland considering we have spent 32 years trying to get a team to the Olympics and their total disregard of our view and financial input into making this dream happen. It is clear to see that Rawlins and Connor have already won the vote of the Irish public. #letthemride has gone viral across social media internationally showing huge support”.

Deadline is Monday, July 5th

"Having been refused by HSI the team place was first passed to Luxemburg who were unable to field a team and has now passed to Belgium who will see their first Olympic dressage team in almost 100 years take part in the games. The decision on this appeal has come down to the wire as Monday the 5th July is the deadline for definite entries into the games. Whether Ireland gets to make history by sending the first ever Irish dressage team to the Olympics remains to be seen.

The only hope now is that an 11th hour intervention from either the Minister for Sport or the Olympic Council can prevail after an appeal to Horse Sport Ireland yesterday was declined," ended the Dressage Ireland statement.

Source: Press releases issued on Friday and Saturday (July 2nd-3rd) on behalf of Dressage Ireland

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