Flurries of positive new activity continue to mark the recent change of administration at Horse Sport Ireland, though there are still some bricks missing from the ever-developing structure.
The recent announcement of the experienced Michael Blake as Show Jumping Development Team Manager adds another layer to the new High Performance committee, headed up by Gerry Mullins.
Blake stepped in as an interim Chef d’Equipe for senior Irish teams competing recently in the US, and was deservedly applauded when both teams took first place in their respective Nations Cups, at Ocala and Wellington in Florida.
It was a triumphant start to the new season for a temporary team manager, and no doubt played a part in the decision to elevate his role within HSI’s management structure.
Blake will now also act as assistant to the new senior team manager, Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa, while Ireland’s Taylor Vard will be Blake’s own back-up. It’s not hard to see that a solid and versatile framework is at last being created for show jumping at HSI’s HQ outside Naas.
Meanwhile, it came as little shock to learn this weekend that the brainchild of the previous administration – Jumping In The City – was finally being abandoned after two patchy (and obviously expensive) outings.
Conceived as a method of marketing show jumping to non-enthusiasts, Jumping In The City ran at three venues in 2015 – Cork, Limerick and Dublin – and then was downsized to just the Dublin leg in 2016. The Irish Field revealed yesterday that HSI has declared that the series will not run at all “this season”. One can only assume that that is management-speak for “it’s over”.
Remarkably, Elaine Hatton, director of international marketing at HSI since 2015, told The Field: “We are not in the business of running shows.” It seems strange that this idea did not occur to her colleagues two years ago, when the series was first mooted.
On another level, the long-awaited SportIreland (formerly Irish Sports Council) review of the Rio Olympics must have slipped through the media net on its recent publication, and certainly does not appear on HSI’s “Reports, Publications and FOI” website page.
We Live Horse caused some controversy last year by suggesting that much of Ireland’s equestrian performance at Rio was less than it should have been, but it seems that SportIreland has come to pretty much the same conclusion.
It says in its report: “Performances across the teams were mixed. Both Judy Reynolds and Jonty Evans exceeded their targets in Individual Dressage and Eventing, respectively. The Dressage and Show Jumping elements of the Eventing team were successful.
“Greg Broderick’s result in Individual Show Jumping was below expectation and the cross country element of the Eventing team was disappointing. Performance at the Paralympic Games was also below expectation for Helen Kearney.”
SportIreland concludes by saying something else that previous reports have also said, but to no great effect: “In line with a clear high performance strategy, the adoption of a Performance Director (PD) model within the sport, with clarity of roles and responsibilities, is the logical next step to drive performance excellence across all disciplines.”
One wonders will HSI just ignore this recommendation from an expert body, as it has done several times in the past.
Which leads neatly to the biggest missing brick of all. Where is the Indecon Report on HSI’s performance and structures, commissioned to great fanfare last year by the Department of Agriculture? HSI Chairman Jim Beecher said on February 27 that it would be available “within weeks”. Maybe he meant to say “months”, for at the time of writing it continues to remain very conspicuous by its absence.
Perhaps, like SportIreland’s Olympic Review, it has been published – but nobody has been told.