Canadian Olympic Team for 2024 Paris Announced - Chia Lodged Appeal

Fri, 07/05/2024 - 19:32
Jill Irving and Delacroix at the 2024 CDIO Wellington :: Photo © Astrid Appels

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced the dressage team that will represent Canada at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The announcement came late - on 5 July 2024 - as one of the last federations to publicize their Olympic team.

Canada's team selection was no smooth sailing as team candidate Ariana Chia lodged an appeal and exposed conflict of interest in the team selection procedure. 

"Due to appeals in both Dressage and Eventing team selections, and the subsequent timelines outlined by appeal panels, we have not been able to announce the teams yet as initially planned," EC told Eurodressage. "Once both Dressage and Eventing appeal processes are complete we will be proceeding with a joint team announcement which we anticipate to be able to happen by the end of the week of July 1."

The FEI definite entry deadline is 8 July.

Canadian Olympic Team

Canada obtained a team slot at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile. 

The Nomination panel was Canada's Dressage High Performance Advisory Group (HPAG), which has officially put forward the following team for the 2024 Olympics:

  • Jill Irving - Delacroix
  • Camille Carier Bergeron - Finnländerin
  • Naima Moreira Laliberte - Statesman
    • Reserve: Chris von Martels - Eclips
Nomination Process

Naima Moreira on Statesman
Canadian riders had to collect scores at CDI events between 1 January - 9 June 2024. All Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special scores achieved by each combination will be used to calculate the combination’s final ranking average. 

Combinations were allowed to discard one qualifying Grand Prix or Grand Prix Special score from their final ranking average, but needed to have at least three GP + GPS scores. The average of all qualifying Grand Prix scores counted for 80% of the combination’s final ranking, the average of all qualifying Grand Prix Special scores counted for 20% of the combination’s final ranking average (weighted average score).

Based on the ranking average, a "Nomination Panel" consisting of the Dressage High Performance Advisory Group (HPAG), selected the team.

The highest ranked athlete will automatically be nominated on the team, but for the other spots and especially in case of close scores/ties, the nomination panel also looks at (rule 3.3.7)

  • Consistency of qualification scores during the Qualification Period (QP) and at different venues, under different conditions, before different judges/panels.
  • Whether qualification scores from qualifying classes reflect improvement over the QP
  • Number of qualification scores obtained within the last 3 months
  • The fitness, soundness and ability of the athlete/horse combination to contribute to a top 10 team performance at the 2024 OG
  • Previous international experience
Chia Lodges Appeal

Camille Carier Bergeron on Finnlanderin)
The nomination of the Canadian Olympic Team was not to everyone's agreement, particularly Ariana Chia felt the decision was "extremely biased and unfair."

Chia is the highest ranked Canadian on the FEI World Rider Ranking (121).

The team was first communicated on 14 June but riders/owners/trainers were under a non-disclose policy. Chia's non-selection prompted her to lodge an appeal with the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada after 

Chia and the 14-year old PRE stallion Guateque IV (by Layco x Salinero XIII) competed at seven CDI's in Florida during the Qualification Period. Her scores went into an upward trend from 66-67% to the 69-70% range as of March. At their last two shows, they were at 69.739% - 68.692% in Myakka City and at 68.869% in the CDI Ocala Grand Prix.

Her biggest challenger for a (reserve) team spot was Chris von Martels, who rode the 15-year old Eclips at four CDI's this year: in Ocala (68.826 and 65.319%), CDI Myakka City (70.326% - 66.787%), and again at CDI Ocala (67.348% and 69.128%). At his most recent, fourth show at the CDI Hagen in Europe, he got 66.935% and 65.957%.

Conflict of Interest

Denielle Gallagher competing for Olympic scores in Wellington
The Canadian dressage High Performance Advisory Group that served as the team nomination panel included members Victoria Winter, Joan MaCarthy, Dr. Alan Manning, Denielle Gallagher, and Lisa von Martels.

Gallagher is a competing athlete and was a Canadian Olympic team contender herself, while Lisa von Martels is the wife of competing athlete, Chris von Martels.

Rule 3.1 of the Canadian Olympic Selection criteria, it states that "No voting or non-voting member of the HPAG shall participate in any discussions or decisions regarding the nomination of any athletes with whom they have a perceived or real conflict of interest. Any member of the HPAG who considers that they are in a position of perceived or real conflict of interest must declare such a conflict before any discussions are held or decisions are made and must remove themselves from any meetings until the matter giving rise to the perceived or real conflict of interest has been resolved by the HPAG."

Chia Wins Appeal

The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada held a hearing and confirmed the conflict of interest, even though HPAG argued it was "athlete feedback."

Von Martels and Eclips at the 2024 CDI Hagen
Arbitrator Richard H. McLaren (known as one of the three members of the WADA Commission to investigate allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia) confirmed that it was an unquestionable conflict of interest

McLaren ordered on 24 June 2024 that, "the final decision of the HPAG dated 11 June 2024 selecting the Paris 2024 Dressage Team is set aside; The HPAG as reconstituted will issue a new final nomination decision in accordance with the Nomination Criteria as soon as possible; and For the purposes of reconsideration by the HPAG, Martels and Gallagher are not to be involved in the HPAG reconsideration and decision."

Chia told Eurodressage, "it was extremely disappointing as a rider and potential Olympic team member, to have to take the federation to court to have them abide by their own contracts and criteria. They explicitly breached their own contract as agreed upon by the arbitrator appointed by the SDRCC, although they tried to claim they were reasonable in their judgment of allowing conflicting members to be part of HPAG discussions AND voting. As my stance was in the appeal - I never asked the arbitrator to renominate the team or to move me up in ranking. I simply asked for EC to follow their own criteria."

New HPAG Nominates Same Team

The HPAG was ordered to be reconstituted and appoint 2 new members to vote after removing Gallagher and Von Martels.

Ariana Chia on Guateque in Wellington
However, they appointed only 1 new member, Wendy Christoff, a dressage veteran and EC Dressage Committee chair. The newly formed panel of four (instead of five) re-nominated exactly the same team.

Equestrian Canada's Communications director Melanie McLearon told Eurodressage that, "the panel ruled to have two individuals removed from the selection meetings, not removed from the High Performance Advisory Group - Dressage (HPAG)."

When asked why only one person got replaced, McLearon replied, "Quorum for the selection meetings is defined in the terms of reference as half (50%) rounded up plus one. Therefore with the HPAG of 5 (or 6) the quorum is 4. With the removal of two individuals from the selection meetings, only one additional member was required to meet quorum. The panel ruled to add one new member to the meetings."

Weighted Average of the Scores

Looking at Canadian riders ranking based on the weighted average of the scores achieved in the qualification period, the top ranked rider was Naima Moreira with  69.228%, followed by Jill Irving with 68.650%, and Camille Carier Bergeron with 68.542%

Reserve rider Chris von Martels had a weighted average of 68.426%, while Chia's weighted average was 68.164%.

HPAG member Denielle Gallagher had a weighted average of 67.562%

"My hope is that by bringing light to this, riders in the future won’t have to worry about if the selection panel is fair or non-conflicted," said Chia. "Or if the spouses of athletes you’re competing against will be part of discussions or voting. My hope is that shining a light on this will get EC to comply with their own criteria and rules in the future so everyone can have a truly fair chance at making a team, without worrying about having to dissect the committee in the future and question the integrity of the decisions being made."

Photos © Astrid Appels

Related Link
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2024 Olympic Games