Major drama is unfolding in the European show jumping scene, as allegations have surfaced mere weeks from the opening ceremonies of the Olympics that could end the Ukraine Show Jumping team’s hopes for a medal early. Very early.
Oleksandr Onyshchenko, a team member and bank roller for the Ukrainian show jumping team was arrested last week for suspicion of corruption and embezzlement, and there is a distinct possibility that his improper funding schemes financed not only his own Olympic hopes, but that of the entire Ukrainian team.
If you’re confused as to how a relatively unlikely nation with a recent history of political and financial unrest fields a potential championship team, you’re not alone. The team is in fact a “purchased” team of foreigners, wooed to represent the Eastern European country by Onyshchenko with promises of a shot at the Olympic Games and access to a barn full of veteran, made CSI5* horses.
In a twist of true irony, however, Onyshchenko’s lone financing of the Ukrainian team may be their downfall: as arrests have been made and properties raided, it is a very real possibility that the Ukrainian government will freeze Onyshchenko’s assets. If that happens, his Olympic-qualified horses, their equipment and team of paid handlers won’t be going anywhere, and the team will be forced to forfeit their slot to the Olympics.
Onyshchenko Off the Team, Horses Sold
Earlier this week, the Ukrainian Parliament opted not to provide immunity or relief from prosecution for Onyshchenko, and the Youth and Sport Minister of Ukraine said he will not sign any “order of inclusion”, two important procedural steps that almost certainly ensure that Onyshchenko will not compete at the Olympics.
In another bizarre twist, it was also confirmed in a German news outlet this week that Onyschenko sold 44 of his horses to Paul Schockemöhle of Germany, though the reports do not detail the transfer date or whether the horses on the Ukrainian team are among them.
Irish Hopes Hang in the Balance
If that happens, the next team in line to take Ukraine’s place would be the tragically absent Ireland. The nation includes several of the top ranked riders in the world, though at the moment they are only qualified to send an individual rider, who earlier this month we heard would be Greg Broderick.
At the moment, the only riders on the FEI qualified list for Rio from Ireland are Greg Broderick, Cian O’Connor, and Bertram Allen. It is unclear if the qualified list could grow to a full squad in the event that Ireland is granted a team slot.
Other possible outcomes are that Onyshchenko would just be removed from the team, but the other horses and riders still allowed to compete with an alternate taking his place on the team. This is less likely though if the reports from the Kyiv Post are true that the corrupt billionaire has left Ukrainian police custody and is fleeing to Russia, though these reports are so far unconfirmed. If he has in fact left the country, his assets will almost certainly be frozen, and it would be up to a judge to decide what happens to the team.
The other scenario is that a decision cannot be reached in time for the athlete submission deadline in mid-July, and an alternate team cannot be selected in time for the games.
At the moment, the Ukrainian Team’s Qualified List includes the following riders:
- Oleksandr Olyshchenko
- Alisa Danilova
- Cassio Rivetti
- Ferenc Szentirmai
- Calcourt Falklund
- René Tebbel
- Ulrich Kirchhoff
We will continue to provide updates as they become available on this developing story. The deadline for final team submissions is July 18, so one way or another, we will have a final answer on the matter by that date.