On Monday (11 July) it was announced by EA that a para dressage team would not be sent to the championships in Herning, Denmark (6-14 August). EA said this was based on selection policies and the national selection panel being “directed” by EA high performance that its programme is “committed to fund only genuine medal contention combinations” to attend. The announcement came the same day EA confirmed the team that would travel to Herning for the dressage World Championships, as well as teams for showjumping, vaulting and driving.
“Following careful review in relation to the medal target scores outlined in the selection policy and consideration of the scores gained by qualified Australian combinations, including where the scores were obtained geographically, the decision was made not to select horse and athlete combinations to attend this year’s championships in Herning,” read the statement.
“Para equestrian is an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) funded discipline, and as such prioritises medal delivery at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. Subsequently, the EA High Performance Program will be conducting an off-horse programme at the 2022 World Championships to further strengthen Australia’s chance of Paralympic success in Paris.”
The statement added that as part of an education programme, identified athletes would travel to Herning and partake in a “schedule of activities” designed to develop future Paralympic medal-winning performances, across all para grades. It would also provide those who had not competed in a championship environment the opportunity to experience the “demands and intensity of a Games campaign”.
“The EA High Performance Para-equestrian Program remains committed to achieving high-performance outcomes, including delivering Paralympic medals in Paris for Australian riders, and believe this plan best compliments these objectives,” the statement continued.
The decision was met with widespread backlash across the global equestrian community. Hundreds of individuals voiced disappointment on social media and a petition calling for the decision to be reversed was signed by more than 11,000 people in two days.
Today (13 July) during a panel discussion hosted by Australian magazine Equestrian Life, EA chair Mark Bradley confirmed the decision had been overturned and that Emma Booth, Dianne Barnes and Lisa Martin had been selected to represent Australia at the para dressage World Championships.
Mark said it had been clear from the “outpouring” how strong feelings were on the matter. He praised the Chris Webb-led high performance team and the selectors for their “good intentions” – but said it was apparent the decision not to send a team was very contentious and for some on the EA board, it did not sit well. The EA board therefore met and asked the selection panel and Chris to overturn the decision.
Dani Fraillon, chair of EA’s high performance para equestrian panel, said there had been some “tears” from the selected riders following the good news, and added that dedication would be given to ensuring para equestrian in Australia is not only high-performance, but a sport “everybody with a disability can do”, if they choose.
Mark confirmed the riders will receive funding towards the para dressage World Championships based on the fact they had qualified and “earned the right” to represent Australia, and as a result there is a “funding commitment to getting them there”. But he also highlighted the fact funding comes from the Australian Sports Commission and that perspective would have to be kept on the fact a “large chunk” of para grant funds will go towards the Herning campaign, and this could mean less funding available towards Paris 2024.
“We need to ensure that we still have the resources available, we still have the support of the owners, and we might need to find some money from somewhere other than the federal government to support our programme into Paris,” he said.
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