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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Para dressage decision flies in face of the Olympic creed

THE Olympic Games creed says: “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”

ABOVE: Emma Booth and her new mount.

The same applies to the World Championships but it seems our Para Riders won’t even make it to the ring to fight.

Para Dressage supporters are reeling from the announcement this week that Equestrian Australia would not be sending any Para Dressage competitors to the World Championships.

The statement says (in part):

“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. 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 FEI World Championships to further strengthen Australia’s chance of Paralympic success in Paris.”

It appears the qualifying bar was set higher than the able-bodied dressage because the para dressage is supported by AIS funding.

So as well as the 70 per cent set for able-bodied riders, para riders had the additional target score:

(ii) Target Scores for each grade to be taken into consideration when selecting the World Championships 2022 Team and/or Individuals are as follows: grade one 79.01%, grade two 74.59%, grade three 77.24%, grade four 74.72% and grade five 75.31%.

Selectors took the average score of the top three riders (medallists) at the last Paralympics and set that as the target for our riders.

Our para riders are high quality.

Emma Booth, who has ridden at two Olympic Games, was loaned the grand prix dressage horse Furst Deluxe by Maree Tomkinson just eight weeks ago and has already managed to score a 72% in freestyle. She would surely improve on that mark in the next weeks, so it’s difficult to understand the reason for non-selection.

Dianne Barnes and Cil Dara Cosmic are rated 126 out of 700 in the world at her level, so she’s well credentialled. Amelia White and Genius are ranked sixth in theirs, Lisa Martin placed fourth at Rio, Matilda Carnegie ranked 28 in her group, 17th in her grade and Zoe Vorenas 34th in hers.

The part of the statement that has most rankled the athletes and supporters is:

“Subsequently, the EA High Performance Program will be conducting an off-horse program at the 2022 FEI World Championships to further strengthen Australia’s chance of Paralympic success in Paris. As part of the education program, identified athletes will travel to Herning and partake in a schedule of activities designed to develop future Paralympic medal-winning performances, across all Para-equestrian grades. It will also provide athletes who have never competed in a championship environment the opportunity to experience the demands and intensity of a Games campaign.”

When the strategic plan is read, this decision goes against the development pathway.

There is a very tight frame of time to appeal, and this is currently under way.

A petition to have the decision reversed that was launched today had attracted thousands of signatures within hours.


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