Announcement of a new permanent CEO for Horse Sport Ireland is to be welcomed, after such a long delay.
It is also reassuring to see that the new incumbent, Ronan Murphy, brings a significant amount of top-line executive experience to the job, arguably more than any of his predecessors.
Despite the complexity caused by the governing body’s many constituent parts and the difficulties this presented, there was always a feeling of “make it up as we go along” associated with some aspects of the management structure during the first nine years of HSI’s existence.
The need for more people in senior executive positions was highlighted in the Deloitte report of April 2016, as well as the need for a Director of Sport, so that the CEO could “deal with more strategic areas”. Other reports also pointed to changes that should be made in the governance of Horse Sport Ireland to improve and streamline its operations.
The Deloitte report also stated quite categorically that HSI should “make breeding the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and allow the sports disciplines to develop further.”
Mr. Murphy appears to come from a background mostly in breeding and agriculture, having been the CEO of Weatherbys Ireland and a director of the TB Studbook for Weatherbys GSB in the UK and more recently having worked for Makeway Ltd., the Waterford based agri-technology supply company.
The question has to be asked: if the long-awaited Indecon Report commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and now provisionally slated for a July release, recommends that the governing body divests itself of its considerable breeding responsibilities, how will the new CEO deal with a sport-only portfolio?
Mr. Murphy also faces the considerable task of attracting a lot more funding to equestrian sport in Ireland. Currently, most of this comparatively meagre allowance comes from the Department of Agriculture, so it is understandable that the Department has a large say in how the money should be spent.
But increasingly it has become obvious that in show jumping in particular, money is dictating the very shape of the sport. The launch by Jan Tops of the Global Champions Tour with its prestige venues and bumper prize pots has understandably attracted rich equestrian owners and their riders, to the detriment of the FEI’s Nations Cup League.
Chefs d’Equipe all over the world are now facing the challenge of assembling enough “A List” riders and horses to make up national teams for Nations Cup fixtures because of the conflict with the Global Champions Tour shows. While this is a universal problem that urgently needs the attention of the world governing body, the FEI, there’s no doubt that national federations with sufficient funds could lure more of their top owners back to the Nations Cups competitions with the promise of special bonuses. Riders and horses could then be seen to represent their countries, rather than their owners or sponsors.
It is hoped that Ronan Murphy, with his considerable managerial experience, will make this issue one of his priorities when he takes up his role in August.
Before Horse Sport Ireland arrived, it is worth noting that its predecessor, the Equestrian Federation of Ireland, which operated with a staff of four people, presided over Irish team victories that have not been equalled in any of the years that followed.
Ireland were overall FEI Nations Cup League winners in the 1999/2000 season, and followed this by becoming European Show Jumping Champions in 2001. We also had an individual European champion, Peter Charles, whose victory took place in 1995, and a World Champion in the shape of Dermott Lennon (2002).
Since then, with the notable exception of Cian O’Connor’s individual Olympic bronze medal in 2012, we’ve had very little to write home about.
It is also worth noting that the Equestrian Federation of Ireland did not carry the weight of breeding as one of its responsibilities. Back then, it was all about the sport. Maybe it can be again.