Rodrigo Pessoa to leave Irish equestrian in bid to represent Brazil in Tokyo

HSI chairman says Pessoa’s bid for a seventh Olympics makes it impossible for him to continue in post

Rodrigo Pessoa has stepped down as  Team Ireland’s senior high-performance jumping director in a bid to represent Brazil at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: James Crombie

Rodrigo Pessoa has stepped down as Team Ireland’s senior high-performance jumping director in a bid to represent Brazil at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: James Crombie

 

Rodrigo Pessoa, who only recently expressed his desire to manage the Irish show jumping team through to next year’s Olympic Games, has announced that he will no longer continue in the role as Team Ireland’s senior high-performance jumping director.

“I have enjoyed my tenure as Ireland team manager for the past three years and am proud to have helped them attain Olympic qualification,” said the 46-year-old Brazilian, who now is seeking selection to compete in Tokyo.

Pessoa holds one gold and two bronze Olympic medals and was Brazil’s flagbearer at the London Games in 2012.

“As I close this adventure as high-performance manager of the Irish team, I have a feeling of fulfilment in having accomplished my initial mission with them,” continued the statement on Pessoa’s website.

“The qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games was our target and we reached it together as a wide but united squad. On the road to that qualification we picked up a European title that had eluded us for over 15 years.

“I am very proud to say that we used more than 30 Irish riders in Nations’ Cup over the last three years; that is something that not many countries can say they have done. Ireland is a nation with a vast pool of talented international riders and I am proud to have worked with them during my tenure.

“I was consistently impressed with what it meant to them all to wear the green jacket and represent Ireland. Along the way we have experienced peaks and valleys. But all the while, motivation grew stronger and stronger. Those difficult times make you appreciate and strive for the good times even more.

“I cannot close this chapter without thanking James Kennedy [interim chief executive of HSI at the time of Pessoa’s appointment] for giving me this opportunity in the first place. I would also like to thank the high-performance committee, Gerry Mullins, Taylor Vard and Michael Blake for their ever-present support.

“Michael Blake has not only been a valuable member of this committee but also my assistant; his relentless enthusiasm was infectious and I will always consider him a close ally. The interior staff at HSI and specifically Triona, Debby and Sophie for always supporting us from afar.

“I am not sure at this time who my successor will be but I genuinely wish them all the luck in the world and I will remain a steadfast supporter of Team Ireland. I will now turn my attention back to my family, my business and my own riding.”

Expressing his disappointment at the news of Pessoa’s departure, Cian O’Connor, who was on the team which secured Olympic qualification at the Longines FEI Nations’ Cup final in Barcelona last month, further stated: “Rodrigo has done a great job and it’s a big pity that he won’t be leading us to the Olympics having guided us to win that European gold and qualify for Tokyo with that Nations’ Cup success.

“The thing now is to ensure that Team Ireland find a suitable replacement, one who knows about high performance. It’s a four-year cycle and, with eight months to go until Tokyo, it would be very difficult for someone from outside to come in now and work with the riders. Hopefully, there will be a shake-up among the present management to lead the team forward.

“We understand that Rodrigo would like to compete in Tokyo himself and wish him all the best for the future.”

Commenting on Pessoa’s decision in a statement from Horse Sport Ireland, its chairman, Joe Reynolds, said: “Representing your country at the Olympics is one of the highest honours in sport and we wish Rodrigo the very best on this journey. From an Irish perspective, his decision to seek a position on the Brazilian team, which will compete against Team Ireland in Tokyo, makes it impossible for him to continue as senior high-performance jumping director at Team Ireland. Everyone at HSI wishes him all the best on a personal level as he seeks to represent his country again next year.”

Gerry Mullins, chairman of HSI’s senior high-performance jumping committee, commented: “Rodrigo expertly guided Team Ireland to secure qualification for the Tokyo Olympic Games following the win at the Nations’ Cup final in Barcelona. He has played an historic part in the management of the team, was an integral part in the success of the team and has been a valued and respected colleague during his term. We are all incredibly grateful to him for that.”

Ronan Murphy, chief executive of HSI, said: “Rodrigo has been an integral part of the successful securing of Team Ireland’s place at Tokyo. We are genuinely disappointed that he won’t be able to continue as our high-performance director for what we hope will be a very successful performance by Team Ireland at the Summer Olympics.

“However, we totally understand the draw of representing his country and participating as a Brazilian athlete in Tokyo. As a six-time Olympian, Rodrigo has an undeniable record to offer his home nation. Opportunities like that don’t come up very often and we wish him very well.”

Pessoa’s consultancy agreement expires at the end of this month and HSI will shortly commence a process to appoint his replacement.

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