IT’S fair to say, I think, that we all knew Irish participation in equestrian sports at the Tokyo Olympics would be impacted by the year’s delay. However, it came as a shock to most when, after the euphoria of qualifying, no dressage team was sent to Japan to represent the country.
In the news pages of the Irish Horse World on Saturday, June 5th, Judith Faherty wrote: “After securing a historic Olympic team qualification slot at the 2019 European Championships, the Irish dressage team for this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games is in doubt as just two riders currently have the minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) to be selected.
“Following the news of Judy Reynolds retiring her 2016 Olympic mount Vancouver K this week, Kate Dwyer has announced she is expecting her first child and will not be available for selection, while Anna Merveldt’s horse Esporim has not competed since January due to an injury and is struggling for fitness.
“That currently leaves Heike Holstein (Sambuca) and Dane Rawlins (Espoire) with their Olympic qualification. British-based Alex Baker has one of the two required MERs, and will have another chance to get full qualification in the coming weeks, while international rider James Connor did not put himself forward for selection.”
Suffice to say, this news did not go down well with Irish dressage supporters who, since the Euros, had looked forward to seeing an Irish team in the dressage competition at the Tokyo Olympics and it was very much the topic of conversation at the weekend’s Botanica Dressage in the City Festival at the National Sport Horse Arena.
Faherty took up the story again in the issue of Saturday, June 26th, informing readers that “Heike Holstein had been nominated to ride at her fourth Olympic Games next month aboard her home-bred Irish Sport Horse mare Sambuca.
“News of Holstein’s nomination was confirmed by the FEI on Thursday following a reallocation of individual quota places after Horse Sport Ireland’s dressage High Performance director, Johann Hinnemann, decided not to nominate an Irish team for Tokyo, despite the team having secured a first ever qualification at the 2019 European Championships.
“The team withdrawal has been met with an appeal by international dressage riders Dane Rawlins and James Connor.”
The decision not to send a team was now being debated by public representatives, in Letters to the Editor and, of course, on social media and, in the Irish Horse World of Saturday, July 10th, Editor Isabel Hurley wrote: “It’s emerged that two Olympic appeals from eventing and dressage riders over Horse Sport Ireland’s Tokyo selections were heard and dismissed within a 24-hour timeframe of one another.”
The letters, Dáil debates and social media comment on Ireland’s non-participation in the dressage team competition continued in the run-up to the Games while, in early December, David Stickland of Global Dressage Analytics, who had queried the process of deciding not to send a team, resigned as advisor to HSI’s dressage and para-dressage High Performance committees, positions to which he was appointed in 2019.