Tuesday, 13 July 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I fully understand and acknowledge the disappointment of Dressage Ireland and individual riders at the decision not to send a dressage team to the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.
I know that it is very frustrating for those riders who had secured a place at the Olympics to accept the decision that was made by Horse Sport Ireland not to send a team. I absolutely acknowledge how difficult this has been for those individual riders, as the Deputy has outlined.
My role and the role of my Department is in developing policy for sport. The national governing bodies, NGBs, develop and deliver their sport, working with their club networks, affiliates and sponsors. This includes the effective operation of their sport, hosting, sanctioning and delivery of events, and the selection of teams for international competition. I do not have a role in these operational matters of NGBs and it would not be correct for me to get involved in such matters. The situation that has arisen in this case is that an Olympic place had been secured by dressage riders but Horse Sport Ireland made a decision not to send a team. The decision of the NGB has been made and the appeals processes has been outlined also. That is entirely a matter for Horse Sport Ireland and it is important that I respect their autonomy in this matter.
The selection process for all Olympic athletes and teams is managed through the national governing bodies of sport and the Olympic Federation of Ireland. The relevant national governing body for equestrian sport is Horse Sport Ireland. As part of the process, the national governing bodies agree a comprehensive selection policy with the Olympic Federation of Ireland in advance of the games. Neither I nor Sport Ireland has any role in the Olympic team selection process. All national governing bodies of sport, including Horse Sport Ireland, are independent autonomous bodies and are responsible for their own governance procedures, competition rules for their sports and team selection procedures.
I understand that the decision of Horse Sport Ireland not to select a dressage team was appealed through Horse Sport Ireland's internal process and through an independent dispute resolution mechanism and that the decision of Horse Sport Ireland was upheld in both instances. It would be inappropriate for me to intervene in any individual dispute regarding team selection or to comment on whether any individual sport is or is not represented at the games. The Minister with responsibility for sport of the day coming in and picking a team for a sporting event more broadly could be problematic for obvious reasons. Nor would it be appropriate for the Minister of the day to intervene in controversial rule changes that may take place from time to time.
Last week, the Olympic Federation of Ireland announced the equestrian team to represent Ireland in Tokyo. Ireland will be represented by one individual dressage rider, Heike Holstein. Heike has previously represented Ireland at three Olympic Games as an individual. I wish her and all of the other members of the equestrian team every success at the games and I am sure that they will do their sport and Ireland proud.
The Deputy will be aware that the Olympic Games commence on 23 July with the Paralympic Games following on from 24 August. Currently, 103 athletes have qualified for the Olympic Games, with 26 slots qualified for the Paralympic Games. This will be Ireland's largest ever team at the games. This will be an unusual Olympics as the events will be taking place with no spectators, due to the latest state of emergency announced in Tokyo. Many of our athletes have already arrived in Japan and the vast majority - over 90% - of the Irish team, including support staff, will be vaccinated before travelling. This is an exciting team for all our athletes heading to Tokyo. While these Olympic and Paralympic Games might be different from what we are used to, I know that every member of Team Ireland will give their absolute best. I hope that they will all enjoy the experience and I have no doubt that they will do Ireland proud and will be excellent ambassadors for our country at the games.
I would like to take the opportunity to inform the House that the Sport Ireland high performance strategy was launched on the 24 of June. This strategy defines Ireland's high performance ambitions for the next decade. It spans three Olympiads, out to 2032.