Ireland may yet have show jumping team in Rio as Ukranian team owner is investigated for fraud

Ireland is first reserve for the Games and there is a chance, albeit slight, that a place could become available, as Ukrainian team owner, Oleksandr Onyshchenko faces a spell in prison amid charges of fraud relating to the sale of gas.

As a deputy in the Ukraine parliament, Onyshchenko was immune to prosecution, but this was lifted on Wednesday.

Onyshchenko’s office was searched twice this year as part of an investigation by the anti-corruption police into the fraud, reportedly worth $120m. As regards Ireland, the question is will any prosecution, if it occurs, result in the billionaire oligarch’s assets being frozen, including his horses, resulting in the Ukraine’s inability to line out in Rio. Onyshchenko reportedly told the Ukrainian news source Strana: “If I have to go to jail, I will, but let them allow me to participate in the Olympics. Afterwards, I’m prepared to go straight from the arena to a prison cell. And let them give me space in the prison to train. That’s all I ask.”

Onyshchenko is a long time backer of the Ukrainian show jumping team, having become a professional rider in 2000. Many of its riders are foreign born, but have declared for the Ukraine. For example, the country booked its place in Rio through its victory in Slovakia last August with a team that featured Cassio Rivetti (Brazilian), Ferenc Szentirmai (Hungary), Rene Tebbel (German), and Katharina Offel (now competing for Germany again). In April, Swiss Olympic silver medalist took over as trainer of the Ukrainian show jumping team.

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) yesterday ran for cover when asked about Onyshchenko, saying it was a matter for the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation.

It’s difficult to say at this stage if Onyshchenko’s troubles could prove beneficial for Ireland, but Horse Sport Ireland was yesterday keeping its powder dry, declining to comment.

This weekend’s five-star show in Knokke, Belgium, will prove of major interest to Irish show jumping fans, with Greg Broderick and MHS Going Global making their first foray into an arena since being named as Ireland’s Olympic show jumping representatives.

Adding to the interest, is that Cian O’Connor - one of the riders who lost out to Broderick in the competition for the Olympic place - is also at the show with Good Luck.

It’s hard not to see this as a sort of head-to-head, with Broderick setting out to prove he was the right choice for Ireland manager Robert Splaine, and O’Connor determined to show he deserved the slot.

O’Connor and Good Luck jumped a clear to finish fourth in a 1.45mtr speed class yesterday, with Broderick and Going Global picking up three faults to place 11th.

Three days of top-class show jumping are promised at Curaheen in Cork next week, striking off with Friday’s Jumping In the Stadium at Curraheen Greyhound Track, followed by the Cork Summer Show, with approx €45,000 in prizes on offer

“The Munster Agricultural Society is delighted to have the Jumping In the Stadium followed by two days of jumping at our grounds,” said MAS chairman Gerard Murphy, who pointed out that public admission is free on the Saturday and Sunday. “This is the first time that MAS and the Munster Region of ShowjumpingIreland have managed to bring these two events together on the same weekend and it promises to be a showcase for the sport.”

In total, there are four grands prix, culminating in the TRM/Horseware Premier Series contest on Sunday.

A hunt chase on Friday at the greyhound stadium featuring six teams made up of two riders from local hunts promises to be a spectacle, as does the puissance at the MAS grounds on Saturday.

The ISH Studbook Series final for five-year-olds will also grab attention on Sunday. Murphy stressed starting times for each competition will be adhered to rigidly.

International eventing is on offer at Kilguilkey House near Mallow, Co Cork. The feature is a CIC three-star class, along with two-star and one-star classes, all over courses designed by Mike Etherington-Smith and constructed by by Danny Dulohery. Competition begins today with the CIC one-star dressage, followed by more dressage and show jumping tomorrow, and the cross-country on Sunday.