A BITTER row escalated last night after Ireland's Olympic chief threatened to ban the scandal-hit equestrian team from future Games.
The fallout from the latest horse-doping scandal descended into a bitter war of words on the day Irish boxing captain Ken Egan rescued Ireland's gold-medal dreams with a convincing semi-final win in Beijing.
President of the Olympic Council of Ireland Pat Hickey accused the show-jumping industry of dragging Irish sport "through the mud".
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Hickey warned the positive test for Denis Lynch's horse, Lantinus, in Hong Kong could have "very serious repercussions for the entire equine industry in our country".
"Unless these people get their act together, they have a very serious problem," he said.
"I was asked before Beijing what my wish for these Games was and I answered that it would be Ireland going through the three weeks without being tainted by any hint of doping. I am sick and tired of our name being dragged through the mud like this."
However, Mr Hickey's comments sparked an angry response from the show-jumping industry last night.
The chief executive of Horse Sport Ireland, Damien McDonald, questioned Mr Hickey's motivation for going public with his comments instead of waiting until they had a chance to meet back in Ireland.
He admitted the positive test which disqualified Tipperary rider Denis Lynch (32) from the Olympic show-jumping final was "a nightmare". But he insisted leaving the equestrian team out of future Games was "not the answer".
"We need to work every hour of every day now to restore confidence in the sport. Leaving it out of the Olympics is not the answer," Mr McDonald said.
"Other sports have done it and now we need to. I could understand how people's confidence would be shaken," he added.
Mr Hickey said he had flown out of Beijing to be at Thursday night's finals, believing Lynch to be in with a chance of a medal.
"Within three quarters of an hour of landing in Hong Kong, word came through that there had been a positive test for an Irish horse," the OCI president said.
He now believes that show-jumping could be dumped from the Games altogether, given the drugs scandals now blighting the sport. An International Olympic Committee meeting in Copenhagen next October will consider applications from five new sports for inclusion in future Olympic Games, and Mr Hickey revealed the OCI had two "very important" meetings with Horse Sport Ireland before the Games.
He said the OCI was "assured all precautions" had been taken to avoid a repeat of the Cian O'Connor scandal that led to Ireland handing back its only medal from the Athens Games of 2004.
"We take them at their word," said Hickey. "We have no choice because testing is monitored by the individual bodies. Neither ourselves nor the Irish Sports Council have any responsibility whatsoever for testing equestrian sports.
"The subject is so complex it's beyond our expertise. But we are now launching our own investigation into this case with Horse Sport Ireland."
However, Mr McDonald angrily denied that the HSI attempted to prevent the OCI from getting the full facts surrounding the drug test.
"We utterly refute the suggestion we didn't report it properly as we did," he told the Irish Independent.
Mr Hickey's threat to omit equestrian teams from future games also drew criticism from political circles last night.
Fine Gael's sports spokeswoman Olivia Mitchell said she was "stunned" at the suggestion.