Cian O’Connor: Cliquish culture not good for equestrian sport

By Mike Dunne

Ireland’s Cian O’Connor says he hopes to promote a sense of harmony among the world’s show jumping riders if he succeeds in his bid to be elected as athlete-representative on the jumping committee of the FEI, the world governing body of equestrian sport.

O’Connor is one of three Irish riders across different disciplines bidding for election, with Sam Watson seeking the appointment to the eventing committee and Helen Kearney going forward for the para-equestrian dressage post.

The Meath rider says that diverse interests in show jumping can work against the betterment of riders in general.

“There are too many cliques — people who support one particular league, people who support another circuit, a group of riders — it’s all too personal and that needs knocking on the head,” O’Connor told the Irish Examiner yesterday.

“I don’t like the status quo where I see different groups and people angling at each other. It’s not necessary, and it’s counter productive.”

“If I get elected, my first role will be to put all that on the table and get people working together.” O’Connor maintains that the role of rider-representative must be inclusive and not just reflect the concerns of those who are in the upper echelons.

“It’s not only a forum for the elite riders - everyone who pays their dues and competes internationally is entitled to their point of view.” Voting power within the FEI is held by member federations whose views are not always in tandem with the riders.

However O’Connor maintains that more influence can be exerted by being ahead of the game and harnessing as much rider-power as possible.

“Sometimes we’re slow to put in the work in the beginning. We’re guilty as riders of giving out after the event, when a rule is changed or whatever. Riders are working outdoors all the time, they’re not necessarily answering emails from the various bodies that might be looking for their views. I think I could help things become inclusive, where we could get the broad views of everybody and make real change that’s beneficial to everyone, and to the sport.” 

Three other international riders are competing with O’Connor for the show jumping appointment.

Watson has more competition for the eventing slot, with 10 riders in total seeking election, while Kearney is one of eight contenders for the para-equestrian dressage post.

While they are seeking the support of their peers, not every rider has a vote in the process - only those who have competed at world championship or Olympic level in the last two cycles are deemed eligible to vote by the FEI.

The show jumping representative for the most recent term was Rodrigo Pessoa, now Ireland’s show jumping team manager. Recently he spoke about the significance of the rider-representative role.

“It’s very important because the jumping committee is a technical group that look out for all the aspects of our discipline - all the rule changes and the problems that come up during the year. To have an athlete that’s there representing all the athletes is really important because we are on the field and we encounter these problems. He said that the ideal candidate needs to have an open mind on changes, and lots of patience.

“Everybody has a different opinion or maybe a different way of seeing it so you have to be open-minded and have a vision of how you want to solve these problems. I think patience is the most important virtue that one should have in a group like this. A lot of different interests are on the table. Every stakeholder has a different opinion.” 

After hosting last week’s show jumping international meeting, Millstreet springs back into action this week as it welcomes the sixth round of the FEI Evening Nations Cup series.

The Irish line-up was announced on Monday by manager Sally Corscadden, who has selected Clare Abbott (Euro Prince), Austin O’Connor (Kilpatrick Knight), Sarah Ennis (Woodcourt Garrison) and James O’Haire (China Doll) for the contest.

“It is always a huge honour to represent your country at a home international, especially at a venue with such a world class reputation as Millstreet,” Corscadden said.

“We are in the fortunate position to have a very experienced and competitive team.” 

The action gets going with dressage tomorrow Thursday and Friday followed by cross-country on Saturday, and show jumping will conclude affairs on Sunday.

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