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April 29, 2014

Haya's Chance At Third Term Hijacks FEI Sports Forum

The FEI Extraordinary General Assembly voted in favor of amending the FEI Statutes to allow presidents to serve three consecutive four-year terms, thus clearing the way for current FEI President Princess Haya to run again. Photo by Germain Arias-Schreiber

Princess Haya looks likely to remain Fédération Equestre Internationale president through 2018, following a landslide vote at the Extraordinary General Assembly in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 29, part of the annual FEI Sports Forum, April 28-29.

The change to statutes permitting any president to serve three terms in a row was passed by 103 votes to three; only Switzerland, Lichtenstein and the Netherlands opposed.

Princess Haya has long insisted she’d stand down after her second term ends this December, and she wouldn’t confirm her further candidacy until June. But she told delegates: “I’m very honored for the opportunity you’ve given me to be available as a future president of the FEI for a third term. I don’t want to go further than that today because I do believe there’s the possibility that there’ll be other candidates. But at the same time you have my commitment to you.”

Later, she revealed that she’d struggled all day with finding the right words to convey the emotion she felt about the sheer weight of support.

She also said she’d welcome a contest for the position in December. “It’s appropriate that others do challenge; you need fresh ideas brought to the table and not to get set in a direction,” she said. “Win or lose, the other candidates will have to adopt some of the principles you have stood for.”

Last November, 100 of the FEI’s 131 national federation members petitioned Princess Haya to reconsider her earlier decision. Notable non-signatories then were Britain, France and Germany, but this time they supported the statute change too.

The Swiss have led criticisms of Middle East endurance, the other main focus of the FEI Sports Forum. Ironically, a further topic was the renewed concern about equestrian’s status within the Olympic movement, which many think is suffering because of endurance.

The Swiss federation’s head of international affairs, Claude Nordmann, argued against the statute—and thus Haya—though this fell on deaf ears. He spoke of conflict of interest, the “contaminating” of the reputation of other equestrian sports by association, and a desire that the FEI address problems more promptly.

“The development of our sport from the bases to the elite could suffer from what the [International Olympic Committee] will decide, but we delegates now have to take the right decisions to show we are aware of the situation and do our best to promote our marvelous sport,” he said. “So the Swiss federation will not support the modification of the statute.”

A Domino Effect

Although it was barely discussed in debate, the impact on Olympic prospects was spelled out candidly by Endurance Strategic Planning Group chairman Andrew Finding in his final report.

“No one should be in any doubt about the International Olympic Committee’s policy of following all issues in sport, be they good or bad,” he said. “The challenges over doping, injuries and welfare currently in the spotlight are damaging to the credibility of [the Olympic disciplines] of jumping, eventing and dressage. Currently the endurance part of the FEI family is putting their security at risk. Endurance is letting the family down, and that cannot continue.”

The FEI also voted to create an “Olympic council” to promote equestrianism. Fourteen IOC members with known horse interests—including former FEI president HRH The Princess Royal—will be invited to join it.

“I cannot be our only gateway to the IOC,” Haya said. The FEI presidency does not automatically bestow IOC membership, and the FEI 2014 General Assembly has been rescheduled to take place after the December IOC session discussing the future Olympic program.

“Equestrian is not being targeted, but we need to watch the working groups, and then if there is work to be done we must do it and not hope it will all blow over,” said Princess Haya.

She also said that “we might need to be brave enough” to consider format changes and the possibility of truncating team competitions in favor of devoting more of the rider quota to the individual. Other possibilities to deliver cost effectiveness to the IOC might include formalizing an official carrier for the transport of horses, and for the FEI to provide the footings and jumps.

Implementing Endurance Reform

Consideration of the final 41 recommendations from the Endurance Strategic Planning Group was the main focus of the second day of the Sports Forum. Some new rules will be applied as soon as June, subject to FEI bureau ratification.

A late addition included a new tier of penalty points—resulting in bans—for riders of horses that are “catastrophically” injured, i.e. killed, in competition or repeatedly eliminated for lameness, plus longer enforced lay-offs. However, no one explained any mechanism to stop riders from simply running a horse in a national ride while it was “resting” from FEI.

Juliette Mallison, the veteran four-star judge from Germany, felt this was the wrong approach. “I don’t think the sanctions for catastrophic injuries are sufficient,” she said. “I would like to see suspension of six months for rider and trainer for a broken leg or if the horse dies on course. We have tried the welfare approach, and it doesn’t work. We have to hit them where it hurts most, and that is their pockets.”

However, Endurance Committee Chairman Brian Sheahan replied that you had to allow for genuine accidents.

“There has been a great deal of debate on this,” he said. “Sometimes accidents occur—that’s why the penalty was not put on the first occurrence. But if it happens twice [with the same rider], then something has got to be really wrong.”

Many have argued there was nothing wrong with the existing endurance rules; they just needed to be applied, especially in the Middle East where officials and veterinarians invariably work for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and other major participants and have been accused of turning a blind eye.

There was wide support for a new FEI Endurance Codex, which the Endurance Committee created to cover endurance officials as well as athletes and registered trainers. The Codex, which defines responsibility, accountability and sanctions for those in breach, already exists for FEI veterinarians.

FEI Director of Endurance Ian Williams revealed that the existing 2,700 officials have already been re-assessed and are attending educational courses. Sanctions would apply to officials who don’t perform.

However, the latest initiative to create a task force to oversee the ESPG proposals was itself controversial, with the FEI forced to replace two of the six members who were senior aides of Sheikh Mohammed.

The decision to remove Maktoum connections and to reject his offer of task force funding has had a mixed reception. FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos observed, “We were possibly too optimistic in wanting some of those who have been part of the problem to be part of the solution.”

The rule changes will be circulated to national federations for final review before the FEI Bureau has its in-person meeting on June 9-10 for approval and immediate implementation.

Facilitators in the endurance debate only permitted questions directly related to the ESPG proposals, and so a query about the progress of the Marmoog “ringer” inquiry was deflected on the grounds that it was irrelevant and that the correct legal progress had to be followed.

Quest, the FEI’s integrity services provider, received evidence from the FEI on March 7 that Sheikh Mohammed’s son, Sheikh Hamdan, rode a horse under a false identity at the 2012 World Championships.

Pierre Arnould, Belgian endurance chef d’equipe, said: “We are speaking about rules and punishment. An important person is accused of cheating at Euston Park. The whole endurance community is waiting a reaction about this.”

Incentivizing Reform Through Meaningful Show Evaluation

The Sports Forum’s first session focused on the Jumping Event Classification System with FEI Executive Board member and chairman of the FEI Jumping Committee John Madden as the keynote speaker. 

The ECS, which was first introduced for show jumping in 2010, has the long-term goal of evaluating events according to a standardized template of objective criteria. The concept was discussed at the inaugural Sports Forum in 2012 when delegates agreed that the prize-money-only system currently in place for grading events didn’t encourage event organizers to improve their facilities, as excellence was not rewarded.

A new ECS was tested in the spring of 2013 at Western European League events of the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping series. The system took into account all the factors that contribute to a top event, including the level of the competition and venue facilities.

Madden identified the three essential goals of the newly developed system:

  • Collecting useable feedback for organizers and FEI Headquarters based on clear, concise standards
  • A streamlined cost- and time-effective evaluation system which engages all enthusiasts
  • Gathering information through systems already in place

He then presented the proposed ECS strategy, including collecting existing officials’ reports, draft schedules and host agreements, which will be incorporated into a manageable FEI reporting database. A scorecard for the event would then be produced and sent to the event organizers for feedback.

He identified additional steps in the ECS development as the review of the implementation protocol and timetable, the automation of the officials’ reports, and the finalization of the scoring system.

Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum, commenting on behalf of the International Jumping Riders Club, encouraged the FEI to implement the ECS and emphasized the importance of strategic forward thinking. “We need to think where our sport wants to be in 20 or 30 years,” he said. “We should consider a long-term vision and never let our connection with the Olympic Games out of sight.”

Delegates discussed the pivotal role of the national federations and their involvement in the evaluation system, the need to avoid duplication of tasks, the weighting of the scores attributed to the facilities for the horses, the involvement of grooms, the use for developing nations, and the need for simplicity and feedback.

“A lot of work still remains to be done, especially where IT developments are concerned, but let’s not have paralysis over perfection,” said Madden. “Our objective is to launch the system later this year to evaluate events wishing to be part of the Longines FEI World Cup and the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup.”

Tidbits

  • The FEI launched its free FEI SportApp on the first day of the FEI Sports Forum. The app gives users access to the FEI’s sports calendar, including detailed programs and schedules. Athletes can also use the app to see which events they are entered for with their horses, get live information on their upcoming entries, and sign up to push notifications for every accepted entry.
  • The FEI Online Entry System, the platform that enables organizing committees and national federations to process the entries of athletes and horses to manage results more efficiently, was reviewed on Day 1. Justin Provost, the director of information technology at the U.S. Equestrian Federation, highlighted the benefits of the FEI Online Entry System and underlined its importance against the backdrop of increasingly busy competition schedules. “The system gives us important athlete information at our fingertips and is very easy to use, which is vital for our busy athlete services team who, on a yearly basis, are dealing with the needs of thousands of athletes,” he said.
  • The new FEI Sustainability Handbook for Event Organizers was circulated during the forum and is also available online. It encourages organizers to implement sustainability initiatives to help reduce negative environmental impact and create positive legacies.
  • After four years of study, the FEI has produced a white paper on equine surfaces and the effect of arena surfaces on the orthopedic health of sport horses. Eight equine experts from six universities took part in the study, and more than 350 riders were interviewed in warm-up and competition areas at 10 four- and five-star events. “Now, thanks to extensive scientific knowledge and data collected on footing by our global experts and this latest valuable rider research, the FEI is able to provide clear guidance on the specifications and maintenance of footing for working areas and competition arenas to the entire equestrian community,” said John McEwen of Great Britain, FEI 1st  vice-president and chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee.
 
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