Ukrainian Team Questionable For Rio Olympic Games

The possibility of the Ukrainian show jumping team participating in the Rio Olympic Games has been called into question as Oleksandr Onyshchenko, the organizer and funding behind the team, has been charged with fraud in the Ukraine.

Onyshchenko became involved in show jumping at a high level in 1998 and in 2000 declared himself a professional rider. He recruited riders from other nationalities to adopt Ukrainian citizenship and jump on Ukrainian teams. The first major international championship to see a Ukrainian team jump was the 2006 World Equestrian Games (Germany), and they finished in fourth. All four riders—Gregory Wathelet, Jean Claude van Geenberghe, Bjorn Nagel and Katharina Offel—were recent converts to Ukrainian nationality.

Onyshchenko rode on teams the Ukraine fielded at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, the 2012 London Olympic Games and the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France). He has also served as the president of the Ukraine Equestrian Federation and runs stud farms in Belgium and Germany.

Onyshchenko, 47, amassed a personal fortune in the energy and fuel industry and was a member of Ukrainian parliament when former President Viktor Yanukovych was in office. But when new President Petro Poroshenko took office in 2014, he vowed to crack down on corruption. Onyshchenko had enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a result of his political position, but on July 5, the Ukrainian parliament voted to strip him of his immunity, and prosecutors brought charges against Onyshchenko for misappropriation of more than $60 million in natural gas fraud. Onyshchenko is not in the Ukraine and has not been arrested; his last Fédération Equestre Internationale results are from the Wiener Neustadt CSI in Austria on July 1.

The Ukrainian show jumping team qualified for the Rio Olympic Games by virtue of their win at the Summer Masters Olympic qualifier in Slovakia in August. There, the Ukrainian team of Cassio Rivetti (formerly of Brazil), Ferenc Szentirmai (formerly of Hungary), Rene Tebbel (formerly of Germany) and Katharina Offel (who has since reverted to her German nationality) won in the Group C (Central and Eastern Europe) qualifier.

There are six riders (with 13 horses) from the Ukraine in the FEI’s nominated list of entries for the Rio Olympic Games—Onyshchenko, Rivetti, Szentirmai and Tebbel, as well as Alisa Danilova and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games individual gold medalist Ulrich Kirchhoff (formerly of Germany). Onyshchenko is listed as an owner for all 13 horses.

The Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, Ihor Zhdanov, said in a Facebook post: “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.”

Prosecution could result in the freezing of Onyshchenko’s assets, which might mean the Ukrainian team would be unable to travel to and compete in the Olympic Games.

In addition, the German magazine St. Georg confirmed on July 6 that Onyshchenko has sold 44 horses to German dealer Paul Schockemöhle. The names of the sold horses have not been released.

Should the Ukrainian team be unable to compete at the Rio Olympic Games, the Irish team would be able to step into their spot. But all those decisions must be made before July 18, which is the final entry date for the Games. Currently, Ireland has Gregory Broderick nominated as an individual for the Games, but Bertram Allen and Cian O’Connor are also in the FEI Nominated Entries for Rio.

By: Molly Sorge