O'Connor vows to 'move on' after Ireland's appeal rejected
Irish hopes of fielding a showjumping team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games were dashed yesterday by the news that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has rejected the appeal lodged by Cian O'Connor and Horse Sport Ireland (HSI).
The appeal related to an on-course incident when an arena steward ran across the path of O'Connor's horse during the critical team jumping competition at last summer's European Championships in Aachen. The Irishman's stallion, Good Luck, hit the next fence and Ireland lost out to Spain for the last available qualifying place by the narrowest of margins.
O'Connor - who hired his own legal team for the hearing in Lausanne last month - said yesterday that he has "no regrets" because he "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," said the London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist.
Despite yesterday's CAS ruling however Ireland will still have strong representation in Rio this summer. The Irish Eventing team qualified at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, and Ireland can still qualify at least one, and possibly two, individual showjumping riders.
Ireland currently dominates the Group B, South-West Europe qualification group from which a single spot is available, with Bertram Allen holding the number one slot ahead of Denis Lynch, Dermott Lennon, Kevin Babington, Shane Sweetnam, Greg Broderick, Darragh Kenny and Niall Talbot.
There is a further possibility of a second individual showjumping qualifying spot through the Olympic rankings, although this won't be clarified until 6 March. And as O'Connor pointed out in his Facebook post yesterday, Ireland is reserve for a team placing should another nation be forced to drop out.
In fact, it seems very likely that Ireland will represented in all three Olympic equestrian disciplines as Judy Reynolds looks well set to earn a dressage qualifying spot following an exceptional year in her sport.
In a statement yesterday, the HSI said that "CAS have only issued a preliminary judgement without providing the reasoning for the decision" but that it is "very disappointed with the outcome" in relation to the appeal.
Sabrina Ibanez, Secretary General of the international equestrian federation, the Lausanne-based FEI, said she was "happy that CAS has 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."