Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Olympic Games

11:35 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

The Tokyo Olympics commence on 23 July, which is in a couple of weeks, with 103 Irish athletes setting sail today. I believe the Minister of State was part of the team sending them off and well done to her for doing it. We wish them every success. It is Team Ireland and we hope they do us proud.

One sport will not be represented at the games. Despite securing qualification in June 2019 at an event in Germany, the Irish dressage team will not send a team to compete. The team qualified but for various reasons the original team members could not partake in the games after they were delayed. Rather than sending a replacement team, Horse Sport Ireland and the coach decided to send no team at all. It is not that the team did not want or was not able to go but it was prevented from going, which is a real travesty.

We know what this sport can give all of us as a nation when we get behind the flag. The Irish football team gave us much joy and success over many years and decades, even when it did not qualify for international tournaments. Katie Taylor has done us proud on many occasions in the boxing ring, as have many other boxers. Annalise Murphy did much for the sport of sailing when she qualified in 2012 and secured a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics. It is a sport, no more than dressage, that enjoyed an elevated status because of her success.

A sport also gets a lift from participation. Tennis clubs around the country report great interest during the Wimbledon tournament every year and a sport in the spotlight showcases talents and abilities. People watch and follow it, taking an interest. Dressage is a small sport at national level but it is very important, with a cohort of committed participants. It is also a sport that is very inclusive and both my daughters ride dressage. They reminded me on the way up this evening that it is a gender-neutral sport because there is no separate class for men and women. Both compete at the same levels and classes. It is also a sport where people of all ages can compete. It is accessible and disability-friendly, with many riders participating despite having disabilities.

This was a chance to showcase Irish sport, horses and riders across the world. As a Kildare representative, I am acutely aware of the importance of the horse industry to Ireland and Kildare, which is its heart. The participants are important but the industry is vital for related industries, including breeders, farmers, trainers, farriers and other suppliers.

The whole mix is contingent on international success. This is a team that qualified. After 32 years of trying we got a place there. We had secured our place and had our pass. Yet, the plane left today with those empty seats because of a decision that I am still struggling to comprehend, which was not to send the team and not to send a replacement team. There are all kinds of question marks around that decision and I might come back to this in replies.

Ultimately, Ireland qualified and had a place and we decided not to send the alternative team. The decision was announced on the day of the deadline and it was too late to turn it around. I am told that the coach is based in California and has been selecting participants by Zoom calls. A standard had been set of 68% criteria, but 66% is the international normal metric. There are many questions that surround that process. The bottom line is that there are three empty seats in the Tokyo Olympics. When the eyes of the world turn to the dressage arena during those games there will be no Irish flag in the arena. That is a crying shame for Irish participants, for dressage riders and for Ireland. It is too late unfortunately because the team has gone. I really believe that this needs to be followed up and investigated as to why this was allowed to happen, and to prevent any recurrence.


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