It may well be that I am preoccupied by the UK’s unceremonious “outing” of itself from Europe, but this week I can’t help but be more intrigued by the circumstances around the notable riders out of Rio as opposed to those still hoping to be in.
Confirmation that Scott Brash isn’t in the British jumping team came earlier this week – or at least that’s what I think we were told. A British Equestrian Federation (BEF) press release arrived strangely late on Tuesday evening, advising that Scott was unavailable because Hello Sanctos and Hello M’Lady picked up “minor” injuries earlier this season and would not be back to full fitness in time. Nothing was said, though, about his third horse on the nominated entries list, Hello Forever. My enquiries about Forever’s status have gone unanswered thus. So can Scott still ride at Rio on Forever or not?
It’s odd that Sanctos and M’Lady were included in the nominated entries if their fitness is an issue – Sanctos hasn’t jumped since February and M’Lady’s sole show of 2016 was Doha in March.
Perhaps filling out our entries list with horses not currently in competition is inevitable with the lack of depth in British jumping, which hasn’t built on our London 2012 success. So much so, in fact, there is the possibility of three veterans on our team – Nick Skelton, and Michael and John Whitaker, the trio tried and tested over decades.
I think, though, we are more likely to see manager Di Lampard take the core squad that secured Britain’s last-chance Rio place in Aachen: Whitaker M, Ben Maher and Jessica Mendoza, but with Skelton and Big Star instead of Joe Clee who had a disastrous Nations Cup at Rotterdam last weekend, with no chance now of a re-run (a bit like the Brexit referendum) to change Di’s mind.
There hasn’t been much publicity about Rio hopefuls so far from Team GB. A BEF advisory note today says teams will be announced on July 5 at a place only to be revealed to attendees on July 4! This suggests Team GB has either unfathomable fears of a security risk or hasn’t organised it yet.
So most Rio stories in the British media thus far are about other countries. When the FEI published the overall nominated-entries list on Tuesday last week, all we received from BEF was an email effectively saying “here’s a link,” leaving us to pick through it ourselves.
There would have been little incentive, though, to issue a press release about British contenders or to headline that William Fox-Pitt, recovered from his traumatic head injury, has made the nominated entries (a “good news” story if ever there was one) when the only thing 99% of media were interested is the big name left out: Zara Tindall.
I was surprised Zara was excluded at this stage in favour of quite so many first-timers. For sure, High Kingdom looked arena-rusty at Badminton after his year off, but his cross-country was solid and Zara is a “big occasion” performer who has not once messed up at a championship.
One person who should have been sure he was in at Rio is Aleksandr Onyshchenko, who effectively owns the Ukraine national federation and most of the horses in its jumping team. However, the utilities billionaire could possibly be out after achieving this extraordinary Olympic “first” – alleged crime against the state 72 hours before he was nominated for Rio.
Ukraine Today has reported that 10 people were detained on June 15 after raids by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) on suspicion of conspiracy to steal US$120 million worth of Ukraine-produced gas in a scheme allegedly overseen by Onynshchenko, who had immunity from prosecution as a MP. The judge set bail of $40 million, NABU’s press service says. [Update: on July 5, Parliament approved Onynshchenko’s arrest but by then he had fled the country]. Other media reported Onyshchenko saying that if he was eventually jailed, he ought to be let out to ride at Rio! You couldn’t make it up…
It will be interesting if his assets are frozen and Ukraine’s riders-for-hire team structure thereafter unravels. For years, FEI change of nationality rules have been cynically exploited by a person of moderate riding ability but with a very large wallet or, it would now appear, a person of moderate riding ability plundering the public wallet. By surrounding himself with talented foreign nationals (among others, Ullrich Kirkhoff, the Atlanta 1996 individual champion under his native German flag) he has jumped at many major occasions on their coat-tails.
That is not what these FEI provisions are for, though the FEI doesn’t seem to have done much to tighten them up, I guess because it facilitates a flag from a “newer” equestrian country with the bonus that Ukraine’s mercenaries tend to be pretty good and won’t produce the “bad” pictures so often cautioned against.
It is probably too much, though, to speculate that Ukraine will drop out of Rio. If they did, Ireland – currently “out” – would get “in” as first team reserve. That would be poetic justice after the Aachen running-steward incident, and end the hoo-hah attached to the selection of Greg Broderick as Ireland’s sole individual.
I am still confused how the FEI has concluded, after all the hoo-hah over the horse-rider same nationality status, that Broderick’s ride Going Global is Irish-owned. The Irish companies registration office has nothing listed with a name remotely like Caledonia Stables. Two other horses owned by Caledonia Stables are listed on the FEI database as Canadian.
The FEI seemed reluctant to divulge the information shown to them which proves the doubters wrong but has finally told me Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) advise they examined a contract between Lee Kruger (aka Caledonia Stables) and Greg Broderick made on September 1, 2012 which confirms they co-own Going Global; that “Caledonia Stables” is the term used to describe the parties’ commercial partnership; and that this corresponds with the information provided by Mrs Kruger and Mr Broderick directly to the FEI and confirmed on affidavit.
Thus the FEI is satisfied HSI has carried out the required verification. But since the ownership information that Caledonia is Irish would have been input of the FEI database by HSI in the first place, that conclusion is hardly a surprise!
And, for third and last time of asking, has the FEI seen the ownership contract itself? Er, no.
All this furore is tough on Broderick as he’s produced the horse to five-star level himself and many will feel the spirit of the horse-rider same nationality rule does apply in this case. But normally the FEI is tough about rules as they are writ, not the spirit of them.
If it were admitted there was the honest mistake at the data input stage in 2012, as a result of which no-one troubled to go through a simple paper exercise to correct it before the January 15 deadline, might there be backlash from the recent failed appeal to the FEI Tribunal by Chinese Taipei rider Isheau Wong?
When buying a horse last December, Wong initially listed it in error in the name of a company she wholly owns, but that company is based in the Netherlands and technically Dutch, thus the horse it owns cannot go to Rio. If she had registered it as China Taipei would anyone have noticed or checked? I do not see how that is any less of an honest mistake…..
Why I am so interested in this minutiae? Well, the pros and cons of national federations inputting their own, unsupervised information onto the FEI database has been highlighted over the past two years to me as a result of the Marmoog endurance horse “swap” and other horse ID scandals in the UAE, and then the “phantom rides” fiasco in that same place.
For sure the FEI would collapse under the strain if the staff at its Lausanne HQ had to input themselves all registrations and competition results from 130-odd countries. But after Marmoog-gate I have assumed that when significant data issues are drawn to their attention, the FEI does now make its own thorough, 100% independent checks. Obviously not.