It is heartening to see that Horse Sport Ireland’s plans to fill outstanding vacancies at senior level have finally started to roll into action.

Today the governing body announced the appointment of Sally Corscadden as Eventing Senior High Performance Director (Chef d’Equipe) following the departure last year of Nick Turner after the expiration of his contract.

It’s also heartening to see that emphasis is being placed on Ireland’s hopes for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, as Ms. Corscadden’s brief is headlined with “focus on the delivery of the high performance plan 2017/2020 and on performance targets for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games campaign and (taking) responsibility for planning, monitoring, selection and performance at international level for European, World and Olympic competition”.

In terms of experience, her credentials could not be much higher. During her 25 year career, Meath-based Corscadden was a member of Ireland’s Bronze medal winning team at the 1993 European Championships and served as High Performance Manager of the Irish Young Rider teams who won a Gold, two Silver and two Bronze medals at European Championship level from 2011 to 2015.

In the press release from HSI, Sally Corscadden says: “(My) aim is to produce riders who can compete for medals with the ultimate aim of Olympic Gold in Tokyo 2020.”

Despite some quite promising top ten finishes, Ireland’s eventers under the management of Nick Turner never quite managed an Olympic medal.

With Don Hannigan now Chairman of the HSI Senior Eventing High Performance Committee following the recent departure of Brian Mangan, and a new show jumping high performance committee chaired by the experienced Gerry Mullins, HSI seems finally to be gearing itself up for serious business.

Of course, there remain a few loose ends at the top end of the rope.

James Kennedy is interim CEO of Horse Sport Ireland following the departure of Damian McDonald, and whether Kennedy will retain the post permanently depends on the quality of applicants who might appear before the closing date of March 24th.

The post of permanent show jumping Chef d’Equipe remains vacant as well, though stand-ins Michael Blake and Cameron Hanley have been more than ably handling the start of the Nations’ Cup season.

HSI’s chairman Jim Beecher is also in an interim position, but despite declaring that he was only “here for six months or so” he has been outspoken in his ambitions for the organisation in the years ahead.

In a recent interview with The Irish Field, Beecher not only laid out aspirations for a €5m per annum weekend national show jumping circuit but also seemed to support the idea of sport and breeding remaining under one roof, a subject that has been in contention for some time, with many observers questioning the ability of Horse Sport Ireland to properly manage both aspects of the industry.

Horse Sport Ireland Breeders Awards
Jim Beecher, interim chairman of HSI

However, the interim chairman acknowledged that change may be on the way with the publication of the long-awaited Indecon Report on Horse Sport Ireland, originally due before the end of February, but now expected “within weeks”, according to Beecher.

He said: “I have no problem with changing structures. I wish people would wait to see the outcome of that report first. I have no doubt that Indecon will recommend a significant amount of change.

“It is inevitable, they are looking at an organisation that is 10 years old and probably needs change.

“However, no matter what change we do, it will not fundamentally change the industry.”

And while praising the dedication of HSI’s staff, Beecher also articulated a long-held belief of many people working outside the governing body’s Naas headquarters, saying that Horse Sport Ireland had “under-achieved”.

“I would say HSI has done a lot of good. It is a “go to’’ place for the affiliates, a significant help particularly to the smaller ones. It has brought in anti-doping programmes and marketing but it is fair to say in light of the discussions that went on in the run up to the establishment of HSI, that it has under-achieved. I think that’s a fair comment,” he told the Irish Field.

Whether the governing body will now achieve its full potential after a decade in existence is a moot point. A lot depends on how many of the recommendations contained in the Indecon report are actually implemented by HSI’s administrators.

Previous reviews and reports on the governing body contained many proposals that seemed to have been simply ignored – a call for sport and breeding to be separated, a need for more experienced senior staff in executive positions, the appointment of a Director of Sport, the requirement that “competencies needed to be enhanced at both Board and staff level” and the inclusion of “independent” members on the HSI Board all seem to have been put quietly on a shelf somewhere to gather dust.

So, whether reports commissioned by HSI are just expensive window dressing, with little if any commitment to adopting the proposals they contain, remains to be seen.

Perhaps the new administration will take on board what Indecon recommends, so that we can finally see the sport’s governing body fire on all cylinders and deliver on the promises made ten long years ago.

And while we’re at it – whatever happened to the review of HSI that Sport Ireland (formerly the Irish Sports Council) was supposed to be undertaking late last year? Has it been published? Does it exist?

Also – does anyone know why on July 12, 2016 the governing body mysteriously stopped publishing on its website briefing notes from its board meetings? The last entry was from the 70th meeting of the board, and prior to that comprehensive briefing notes were published five or six times a year. However, since July 12, 2016 not one entry has appeared.

Aside from everything else, HSI really needs to shed its cloak of non-transparency and let everyone know what’s going on. All the time.

Colin McClelland

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