JOHN TYNAN: Ukraine’s olympic participation still up in the air

It emerged this week that de facto Ukrainian show jumping team owner Oleksandr Onyshchenko has sold 44 of his horses to Germany’s Paul Schockemohle.

It comes after the Ukrainian parliament lifted the immunity granted to Onyshchenko as an MP, opening the way for his arrest in relation to a fraud regarding the sale of gas. He is charged with misappropriating more than $60 million.

His arrest could see his assets, including his horses, frozen and the sale of the horses to Schockemohle suggests Onyshchenko was conscious of such a scenario.

This week’s developments further raise the possibility that Ukraine will not be able to field a team for the Olympics, with Ireland the first reserve if this occurs.

While the freezing of Onyshchenko’s assets could deny his team - of mostly foreign riders - the opportunity of competing in the Olympics for obvious reasons, the sale of 44 horses to Schockemohle also opens up the ownership issue.

As has been well ventilated in recent weeks, the ownership or part ownership of a horse must be the same nationality as the rider to be eligible to compete in the Olympics.

Crucially, which horses have been sold to Schockemohle is unknown, but you would have to assume that, if any of the Olympic-nominated horses are included, their move to the German would be completed so as to comply with FEI rules on ownership.

In revealing the sale of the horses, Schockemohle told St Georg magazine that it was the intention that Ukraine would still field a team at the Olympics, suggesting that none of the horses he had bought were on the FEI’s nominated list of Olympic entries for the Ukraine.

The Ukrainian list, published last month, shows 13 horses, all owned by Onyshchenko, who is listed as one of the six riders along with Cassio Rivetti (formerly Brazil), Ferenc Szentirmai (formerly Hungary), Rene Tebbel (formerly Germany), the 1996 Olympic individual gold medal winner Ulrich Kirchhoff (formerly Germany) and Alisa Danilova.

An FEI spokesperson this week told the Irish Examiner: “If the horses’ nationalities are changed to any nationality other than Ukrainian, they will be ineligible to compete at the Olympic Games in August, but, providing their nationality remains Ukrainian, they would be allowed to compete in Rio.

“It is the responsibility of the Ukrainian National Federation to ensure that any horses entered for the Games to represent Ukraine are registered in Ukrainian nationality.”

The spokesperson added: “The FEI? would only be informed about a change of ownership when the administering federation makes a change on the database.”

FEI director of jumping Capt John Roche said yesterday that the horses on the nominated entries list were still in Ukrainian ownership.

“Ownership is very clearly laid down with regard to the requirements for the Olympics.

“The Ukrainian horses that are on the nominated entry list for the Olympic games are currently in Ukrainian ownership.

“The owner can change, but the nationality has to remain the same. The horses could be sold entirely or in part to a Ukrainian, which would permit them to take part in the Olympic Games. That is in line with FEI regulations governing ownership and nationality for the Olympic Games,” said Capt Roche, who rejected that the FEI system that sees national federations process the ownership of horses is open to abuse.

While it is still possible Ukraine will have a team in Rio, the participation of Onyshchenko - who competed in the Beijing and London Games and was president of the Equestrian Federation of Ukraine from 2002 to 2013 - is looking increasingly doubtful. Ukraine’s Minister of Youth and Sports Ihor Zhdanov said on Facebook this week: “For me there can be no debate. I will not sign the order for Mr. Onyshchenko’s inclusion in the national Olympic team of our state. A person who is under investigation on suspicion of corruption cannot represent Ukraine at the Olympics.”

Onyshchenko, meanwhile, has fled to Moscow, the Ukrainian prosecutor general told the country’s parliament. He was, however, also said to be in Austria, where the FEI website showed he competed in Wiener Neustadt last Friday.

It’s still a long-shot that Onyshchenko’s troubles could pave the way for an Irish team in the Olympics, but the way the situation is developing, we have a right to believe in poetic justice, considering the manner in which we were denied an Olympic place by the actions of a member of the ground part at last year’s European Championships.

Unfortunately, July 18 is the final date for entries to the Olympics, so matters would need to move as swiftly, if not more swiftly, in the next week, if Irish hopes are to be realised.

As Capt Roche pointed out: “The July 18 deadline is for definite entries. After this, teams can no longer be replaced by another team.”

  • Ireland will line out second of eight countries in today’s Furusiyya Series nations cup in Falsterbo, Sweden, with manager Robert Splaine naming the following team: Shane Sweetnam (Chaqui Z), Darragh Kenny (Go Easy De Muze), Anthony Condon (Aristio), and Shane Breen (Golden Hawk).

US-based Cork rider Sweetnam got Ireland off to a good start yesterday, winning a speed class on Cyklon.

In Spruce Meadows, Canada, Derry rider Daniel Coyle (Fortis Fortuna) also raced to victory in a speed contest, denying Co Down rider Conor Swail (Kanisso) by 16-hundredths of a second.

It was one of two runner-up finishes by Swail. Riding Dillinger, he was kept off the top spot by Eric Lamaze (Rosana Du Park) in another one-round competition.

  • Para dressage rider Helen Kearney, who won three medals at the London Paralympics, will be aiming to do even better in a couple of months, having been named this week as Ireland’s representative at Rio de Janeiro.

The Wicklow woman will ride the stallion Rock and Roll 2 at the Paralympics on September 7-18.

In London, Kearney won and individual silver and bronze and helped the Irish team to secure a bronze medal.

In 2001, she was diagnosed with Friedrich’s Ataxia, a rare inherited disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems. Due to the progressive nature of her condition, in July 2010, she was classified as a 1a, the most disabled category.

She highlights the importance of riding in keeping active.

“Horse-riding and the physical activity that goes hand in hand with it, is what is keeping me walking. But more than that, it has given me a reason to keep fighting. Friedrich’s Ataxia is a tough realisation to be left with, one which doesn’t get any easier with time. Horse-riding and competing in para equestrian sport has given me so much of what this rare disease takes away.”

See this video produced by Helen:

Horse Sport Ireland have nominated Rosemary Gaffney and her horse Bink as the non-travelling reserve combination.


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