Show jumper Cian O’Connor yesterday said he had “no regrets” after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected his appeal against the debacle at the European Championships that cost Ireland a place in the Olympics.
However, he also said he intended to plan for a year that could yet see Ireland field a team at Rio de Janeiro, though he admitted it was a long shot that would see Ireland as first reserve taking the place of a country that had withdrawn. There is precedence, as, in an ironic twist, Ireland opted not to send a show jumping team to the Sydney Olympics.
Yesterday, O’Connor said he needed to turn his focus to the competition arena as he awaited an explanation by CAS for its decision, which is due, according to the Swiss-based body “in the coming weeks”.
“I’ve no regrets about appealing against the injustice of what happened at the European Championships,” said O’Connor from Florida, where he is preparing for the three-month Winter Equestrian Festival. “I broke no rule and I was compelled to try everything possible to gain fair play, which I did at great personal expense.
“This has taken up a lot of my time and I need to focus now on my work. I have 24 horses here in Florida, four clients, and 12 staff. It’s a big operation and I am concentrating on building towards the best possible results this summer and see where that gets us.
“I intend to plan though as if the Irish team will be at Rio, as I still think we have an outside chance and must not lose hope. If we get there, we are genuine medal contenders,” said the Meath-based rider, referring to fact Ireland is first reserve after also missing out on Olympic qualification at the 2014 World Equestrian Games by just one place.
While Ireland, at present, will not have a team at Rio, Wexford rider Bertram Allen is highly likely to earn one individual place, with a possibility that a second place could become available. It is, however, manager Robert Splaine who decides who will carry Irish hopes at the Games.
O’Connor was on course for a clear round at the European Championships last August in Aachen, Germany, with his big-jumping mount Good Luck making nothing of the tough course.
However, as he turned to the last line of fences, a bizarre incident saw a steward run in front of him, then leap into a flowerbed in a bid to get out of the way.
It was obvious that O’Connor was distracted, with the result he knocked the next fence — being the only rider to do so — leaving Ireland on 25.96 penalties after three days of competition, just 0.38 penalties behind Spain, who earned the last of three Olympic places on offer. O’Connor was furious at the end of his round, gesticulating and pointing in the direction of the steward.
An immediate appeal at Aachen by O’Connor and Horse Sport Ireland to the ground jury was rejected on the basis “that, as the athlete had continued his round, they saw no reason to stop him by ringing the bell. Under Article 233.3 of the FEI Jumping Rules, the athlete had the opportunity to stop voluntarily due to unforeseen circumstances beyond his control, however, he did not do so”. This finding was then upheld by a committee of International Equestrian Federation (FEI) officials, who said they would not over-rule the ground jury on a “field of play decision”.
Ultimately, a decision was taken by O’Connor and Horse Sport Ireland to appeal to CAS, resulting in a day-long hearing in Lausanne, Switzerland, on December 16. The CAS arbitration panel was presided by American Jeffrey G Benz and included Briton’s Philippe Sands QC, and Nicholas Stewart QC.
Horse Sport Ireland chief executive Damian McDonald yesterday expressed disappointment at the CAS decision.
“We felt that we had made a strong case and we are very disappointed with the outcome. We will await the full reasoned judgment before making any further comment,” he said.
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