The FEI has announced that show jumpers from Qatar and Sri Lanka will not be allowed compete at this year’s Olympic Games, bringing to three the number of countries that have been expelled following Canada’s forfeiting of a show jumping team slot last year.
While the Qatari and Canadian expulsions are related to positive rider doping tests, the Sri Lankan loss of an individual place came after concerns that the rider who gained the slot had taken advantage of an unusually high number of fixtures at Villeneuve-Loubet in France in the run up to the 31st December qualifying deadline, having to compete only against a limited number of opponents for ranking points.
Last month the International Jumping Riders Club had called on the FEI to investigate the allocation of points at the French venue and also at another in Damascus, Syria which staged a similarly high number of fixtures late in the year, including one on Christmas Day.
The rider who profited most from the glut of fixtures at Villeneuve-Loubet, Mathilda Karlsson, had thereby climbed into the second qualifying place in Olympic Group G (South Asia/Oceana) for her country of birth, Sri Lanka, overtaking Hong Kong’s Kenneth Cheng.
Karlsson’s dream of qualifying for Tokyo had been hampered by her horse Chopin VA being unwell for a spell during the year- she had gained some of her points in much more competitive affairs early in 2019 while the horse was fit - hence the end-of-year dash in France.
Adopted by Swedish parents, she had previously competed under their country’s flag, but would have little hope of making it onto its Olympic team, and declared for her country of birth in 2017.
The FEI has now disallowed several of the events at the French venue in which Karlsson gained points, dropping her out of Olympic contention, but the governing body admitted that it had “mistakenly approved” the controversial late addition of qualifying classes at meeting.
With Cheng now reinstated in the second qualifying place in Olympic Group G, Sri Lanka has thus been deprived of its first-ever equestrian Olympic place. Last month Karlsson had been hailed as a heroine when she visited, and there was even talk of naming a racecourse after her.
In relation to the Damasus meeting, the FEI found anomalies relating to prize money, but said there was no issue in relation to Olympic rankings. Qatar’s expulsion follows positive doping tests on two riders - Sheik Ali Al Thani and Bassem Mohammed - at a qualifying event in Morocco in October.
The two tested positive for cannabis metabolite Carboxy-THC which is prohibited under FEi rules. The Tokyo team place now passes to Morocco.
The case concerning Canada stemmed from the Pan-American Games in Peru last summer and relates to a positive doping test for team member Nicole Walker. She claimed that she had mistaken coca tea (which is legal in Peru) for green tea at breakfast during the championships.
The Canadian team had finished fourth to claim the last Tokyo spot from that region, but with Walker disqualified the revised Canadian team total dropped them to seventh, with Argentina being elevated into a Tokyo place.
Canada were one of the teams battling with Ireland last Sunday at the Nations Cup of America in Florida. It was the first outing for Irish manager Michael Blake, who took over from Rodrigo Pessoa, having been his right-hand man for the previous three years.
He was given the best possible start on Sunday when first rider Capt. Brian Cournane came in clear on Armik. It got even better when Paul O’Shea romped home intact on Imerald van’t Voorhof and it was looking good too for third rider Cian O’Connor on Lazzaro Delle Schiave as he got most of the way around in the clear, but two late poles down saw him finish with eight faults.
Darragh Kenny had the chance to get that third clear and he too was most of the way home on Romeo 88 but the second-last fence saw them pick up four faults. With O’Connor’s score as the discard, it left Ireland sharing the lead on four faults at halfway with Great Britain who were competing with only three riders.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Blake, as Cournane and O’Shea each had two down second time out while O’Connor had four faults. Darragh Kenny could have seen Ireland in third if going clear at the finish but the last fence hit the deck and dropped the team to sixth.
USA won after a jump-off with the British. For Ireland this was not a qualifier - it was for USA, Canada and Mexico - and there will be another guest outing in Florida next month. “It’s a long season ahead and it’s all about building our pool of horses and riders,” Blake said.