At first glance it’s a bit like a script for a bad comedy.

The screenplay goes something like this: small European nation enjoys international prominence in a sport for many years and then through a long period of mediocre management, limited resources and lack of vision falls far behind the rest of the world.

Every now and then a single rider or horse emerges to demonstrate that there is still talent and potential within the ranks of its competitors, but somehow nobody can manage to put a team together that will win any major championships or even qualify for the Olympics.

Sixteen years drift by without this small nation able to score a team medal in the European championships, and perhaps even worse, three Olympic Games come and go without them being sufficiently organised to qualify a single team.

Then…suddenly there is different management installed at the top of the sport’s governing body and a wind of change blows through the dusty bureaucratic corridors.

A new High Performance Committee of experienced and talented people is formed, with lots of input from the frustrated riders. A person of international renown is somehow enticed to take over the Chairmanship of this committee, and then, to everyone’s surprise and delight, he in turn manages to persuade one of the world’s most famous riders to come to Ireland and manage the team.

The fairytale is almost complete when the new manager, with the backing of the new High Performance chairman and the new committee, orchestrates his team so skilfully that they break the long drought and come home with a gold medal from the European championships. Not only that, but an individual bronze medal as well.

All now looks set fair for a successful campaign to at last qualify a team for the Olympics, after three failed attempts. Morale is at an all-time high amongst riders, owners, fans and supporters. The little nation seems destined to climb back to its rightful place at the very top of the sport.

But wait….what is this? What can possibly spoil this amazing story, this defiance of the odds, this tale of hope and struggle and victory?

How come, with the Olympic qualification year almost upon them, the governing body mishandles the whole thing so badly that the chairman of this successful committee, perhaps one of the best in the sport’s history, suddenly resigns? And not only that, how can they allow a situation to get so out of hand that the team manager, the main architect of this great success, threatens to resign as well?

The country, of course, is Ireland, the Chairman of the successful committee is legendary coach and trainer and former Aga Khan star Gerry Mullins, and the team manager is Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa, Olympic multi-medallist and three-time World Cup winner. And the people who allowed this appalling crisis to develop are…..well, step forward Horse Sport Ireland. It seems the leopard hasn’t changed its spots after all.

There’s a wise old saying: failure is an orphan, but success has many parents.

In other words, if things go badly nobody will want to claim ownership. But, if things go well, then everyone will try to muscle in and pretend they had something to do with it.

Rodrigo Pessoa and Gerry Mullins in happier times – celebrating Ireland’s victory in the European Championships at Gothenburg.

In the Irish Field today, Gerry Mullins is quoted as saying: “I was forced into making a decision to resign because I felt the possibility of us being able to continue the good work was going to be lessened by unnecessary interference.”

In the Irish Examiner, Rodrigo Pessoa today said: “We had a very good team in place that worked very well and we saw the result this team achieved this year. This instability is not good. We should be now enjoying the rewards and thinking about next year, and (instead) we’re fiddling with these internal problems.’

Pessoa confirmed to the Examiner that he would now have to consider his future with the team, following the departure of Gerry Mullins from the High Performance Committee.

In the real world, beyond the plots of film comedies, people who produce results are encouraged and supported and given as much free rein as possible, so that they may continue with their winning formula. That’s how business is supposed to work. However, within Horse Sport Ireland, on the evidence to hand, it would seem that people who produce results have to be controlled and constricted in their activities. And to the extent that they find resignation the only possible avenue available to them.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it might even be funny.

Colin McClelland