Ukraine has become the third country to lose a team place at the Tokyo, for failing to obtain the competency-based Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MER) – at least three riders per country needed MERs by December 31st to confirm its ticket.
Last June, Ukraine won the eastern European Jumping Nations Cup in Budapest, Hungary, a 3* Nations Cup. The results list shows it was a sub-standard affair, with the five completing teams recording 50,58, 64, 65 and 79 faults respectively. Not one rider jumped clear.
In a further sour note, the Czech Republic takes Ukraine’s place at Tokyo, despite one of its riders testing positive during Budapest to hydrochlorothiazide, a banned diuretic considered to be a masking agent. However, as Emma Augier de Moussac was eliminated in both rounds and already the drop score, the Czechs’ qualifying result stands.
Ukraine sprang to prominence on the jumping scene with the backing of controversial billionaire Oleksandr Onyshchenko. Its successful squads comprised 5* expat riders who had been incentivised by the patron to change nationality.
Ukraine’s Rio team comprised René Tebbel and Ulrich Kirchhoff (who originally rode for Germany), Ferenc Szentirmai (Hungary) and Cassio Rivetti (Brazil.) However, Ukraine’s horsepower has dwindled since 2016, when Onyshchenko fled the country amid accusations of heading up a $125 million fraud in the gas sector. He has been living in exile since, most recently in Spain, though last month the Washington Post reported his imminent return.
The MER system in jumping has 12 permutations, compared with much simpler criteria in eventing and dressage (see Article 632 of the Olympic Regulations). Tebbel was the only Ukrainian to achieve the MERs, with Saxo de la Cour – since sold to Japan’s Mike Kawai.
As previously reported, in dressage, South Africa and Brazil’s teams also failed to obtain MERs, having won the qualifying events for their geographical regions
Meanwhile, due to a positive sample for cocaine being returned by Nicole Walker at the Pan Ams, Canada’s team jumping place has been annulled. Canada was less fortunate than the Czech Republic, for with the loss of Walker’s score, Canada dropped to seventh place, letting in Argentina. As of this week, Qatar faces the same fate following two positives for cannabinoids returned by their riders.
The controversial change to three riders per team for Tokyo was aimed at enabling more countries to take part – Olympic equine participants are capped at a total of 200, irrespective of how this figure is divided up within the three disciplines.
However, qualifying events for some less advanced equestrian regions have taken place at a lower level of difficulty than the World Equestrian Games or European Championships, where others won their Tokyo tickets. Because qualifying is a two-step process, it was widely predicted some qualifiers would find the MERs too difficult and be forced to abandon their Olympic dream.
While unlikely as they are well mounted and have met the MERs, if the Czech Republic were to decline the Ukraine’s team jumping place, it passes to Hungary, third in the Eastern European qualifier on 64 faults. But Hungary also lacks three riders with a MER. Only if Hungary were to also decline would Canada be eligible for a team spot.
The FEI will confirm team places in writing to all eligible countries on January 10th. They have until February 3rd to respond. Any qualified country unable or not wishing to take up its team place may send an individual; if its team drops out after February 3rd, its individual option is forfeited and passes to another country. So while the MER deadline has passed, the total number of “new” nations making their Olympic debut remains unclear.
For team medals, hosts Japan take part in all three disciplines. USA, Germany, Great Britain, France, Ireland, Sweden and Australia have qualified teams in all three disciplines. Other qualified teams are: Dressage – Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Russia, Austria. Eventing: New Zealand, Italy, Poland, Brazil, China, Thailand, Switzerland. Jumping – Switzerland, Belgium, Egypt, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Israel, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, China and Qatar (subject to Qatar’s disqualification for doping offences as mentioned above.)