O'Connor stripped of gold medal at hearing in Zurich

 

Showjumper Cian O'Connor has been stripped of his Olympic gold medal by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) judicial committee. Grania Willis, Equestrian Correspondent, reports.

After a 12-hour hearing in Zurich yesterday, which was followed by another two hours of deliberation, the committee announced the 25-year-old would be banned from showjumping for three months and stripped of his gold medal.

O'Connor, who did not rule out an appeal against the sanctions, declared himself happy that the FEI judicial committee had accepted that he had not deliberately attempted to enhance the performance of his horse Waterford Crystal.

"I'm pleased that I have been vindicated of any deliberate wrongdoing, both myself and my vet James Sheeran," O'Connor said last night.

"Obviously it's a disappointment, a huge disappointment, not alone to me, but to my friends, staff, colleagues and sponsors and indeed to the country at the loss of the gold medal, but the medal has to go under the rules."

The possibility of an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne was not entirely ruled out by either O'Connor or his legal team, however. "It's been a long day here today, one step at a time," he said.

O'Connor's solicitor Andrew Coonan said: "It's something we now have to go back and think about," he said. "Everything must be considered. Nothing is ruled in, nothing is ruled out."

The Co Kildare rider has been asked to pay 5,000 Swiss francs towards the cost of the hearing.

He will have 30 days from the completion of the judicial committee's full written decision to lodge any appeal with CAS but, if he decides to accept the sanctions imposed yesterday, the three-month suspension comes into force at the end of the 30-day period.

Two human drugs, fluphenazine and zuclopenthixol, were found in a urine sample taken from his horse, Waterford Crystal, after his win in Athens.

After the Waterford Crystal test result O'Connor announced that another of his horses, ABC Landliebe, had tested positive for sedatives in Rome at the end of May last year.

Yesterday's hearing at the Unique Conference Centre at Zurich airport started at 9.40am, with Cian O'Connor arriving by taxi shortly before 10. He was escorted up to the eighth-floor hearing by his public relations adviser Wally Young.

The committee, took evidence from three FEI witnesses, Dr Frits Sluyter, head of the federation's veterinary department, Dr Yves Bonnaire, director of the Paris laboratory where Waterford Crystal's A urine sample was tested positive for the two banned substances, and Dr Marianne Sloet, a professor in the department of equine sciences at the University of Utrecht.

O'Connor's legal team, made up of solicitors Mr Coonan and James Cawley, senior counsel Michael Collins and Swiss lawyer Pierre-Yves Tschanz, called in Prof Tom Tobin, toxicologist and pharmacologist at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Centre, Cian O'Connor's groom Jane Doyle and vet James Sheeran.

But although the defence team managed to persuade the judicial committee that the two substances, fluphenazine and zuclopenthixol, had not been administered in an attempt to enhance performance, the federation has a zero tolerance of these banned substances.