An international court ruled Monday against the Fédération Équestre Internationale, reinstating points riders earned at several disputed show jumping competitions in 2019 and 2020, thereby earning Sri Lanka a spot in the individual show jumping competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
In issuing its decision, the court said the FEI had made mistakes in approving the competitions in question but reserved its broader right to cancel competitions retroactively under extenuating circumstances.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld an appeal, filed by show jumpers Mathilda Karlsson of Sri Lanka and Andrea Herck of Romania and the Sri Lankan Equestrian Association, of the FEI’s decision to annul results from a series of CSI2* competitions held between December 2019 and January 2020 in Villeneuve-Loubet, France. By reinstating points earned at those competitions toward the Olympic and Longines rankings, Karlsson is now in the No. 2 spot for the Olympic Group G (South East Asia, Oceania), earning her an Olympic berth, while Hong Kong has been bumped down to first reserve in the group.
The FEI’s original decision to annul results of a series of CSI2* competitions at the French venue was based on findings from an investigation it launched after concerns were raised about the integrity of the events, an FEI press release said. The investigation found that 12 competitions had been added to the Villeneuve-Loubet schedule after the deadline for definite entries, against FEI rules, and prize money for those competitions similarly was increased after the deadline to make them count toward Olympic and Longines rankings, also against FEI rules.
However, while the schedule changes were made past deadline, the French Equestrian Federation properly submitted them to the FEI, and they “were mistakenly approved by the FEI,” the FEI press release said.
The CSI2* competitions averaged about seven participants each, most of whom knew organizer André Herck personally, including his son, Andreas Herck, the FEI investigation found. Results from the disputed classes allowed the handful of riders to accumulate Olympic and Longines ranking points. Karlsson, for example, moved from seventh place to second place in her Olympic Group G rankings, based on points from the Villeneuve-Loubet show series.
Upon the conclusion of its investigation, the FEI decided retroactively to remove the competitions, thereby removing competitors’ points earned there and requiring a recalculation of Olympic and Longines rankings. Karlsson and Herck appealed that decision and, in February, an FEI Tribunal dismissed their appeal, leading to the CAS case decided this week.
In its ruling, the CAS noted that the FEI should have the power to annul competition retroactively, “because—in many cases—the circumstances giving rise to integrity or ethical issues (such as betting, bribery or match fixing) will only become known through information that transpires as late as during or after the event.”
However, in this particular case, the CAS found the FEI had made its own mistake by approving the schedule changes submitted by the French federation prior to the competition, and that it could not annul competitions due to “human error” within its own ranks.
After the appeal was upheld, attorneys for Karlsson and the Sri Lankan Equestrian Federation heralded it as a victory for all riders.
“It is a landmark decision for the equestrian sports as this CAS decision illustrates that the FEI’s discretionary powers are limited, and that the FEI needs to observe utmost care in approving equestrian events where ranking points are to be earnt. All this for the benefit of the riders,” said a statement from the Netherlands-based Schelstraete International Law Firm.
The FEI, for its part, has said it is taking actions to ensure similar situations do not arise in the future. In February, it introduced a quota system for CSI2* events and began requiring organizers of such events to have a minimum of 50 participants if they wish the results to count toward Longines rankings. Similarly, the federation said it is reviewing the scale of Olympic ranking points based on the number of participants in a competition.
“This is a very disappointing result for the FEI, but we respect the decision as we knew that mistakes were made and the CAS decision is based on that,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said. “When we decided to annul the Villeneuve-Loubet results in order to do the right thing from a sports integrity perspective, we knew there was a possibility we could lose this case on appeal, but we agreed it was a risk worth taking.”