Equestrians around the world are on lockdown and unable to compete due to COVID-19, but a few creative people have come up with ideas for virtual horse shows to stay connected, help riders get in a little bit of practice with constructive criticism, and even raise money for those in need during the crisis.
But some of those virtual horse shows are now in doubt, as a Fédération Equestre Internationale memo from official Hans-Christian Matthiesen that’s been circulating online clarified rules regarding online competition and warned FEI officials and judges they could face sanctions for participating.
Matthiesen’s memo points out several rules regarding participation in “unsanctioned events,” which are defined as an “event or competition that is neither published in the official calendar nor authorized by a national federation and/or a national event authorized or organized by a national federation that is suspended by the FEI.”
“Equestrian sport depends, for its credibility, on public acceptance derived from the integrity of its competitions,” the memo states. “Behind this precept lies the premise that the best athletes should win fairly and squarely, having competed under even and equitable conditions and under rules that are themselves fair, realistic, and applied with scrupulous competence and even-handedness. No result can be meaningful or valid if it has not been achieved on a level playing-field. Please remember that at the core of our mission is to protect and promote those principles!”
Article 155 in the FEI General Regulations, which covers Status and Liability of Officials, dictates that FEI officials and judges are not allowed to participate in unsanctioned events, and if they do, they aren’t allowed to officiate at an FEI event for six months after and could be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
In Article 113, which covers Registration and Eligibility of Athletes and Horses, the rule states that athletes and horses that are registered with the FEI are not eligible to participate in an international or national event if they’ve participated in an unsanctioned event within six months.
Matthiesen clarified in the memo that if one is judging a test online for training and educational purposes, it’s not a “competition,” so it would be allowed, but if prizes, rankings and results lists are included, it would violate the rules.
A spokesperson for the FEI confirmed that participating in unsanctioned events is not allowed. In addition, use of FEI dressage tests is not permitted without a formal license agreement from the FEI.
“The FEI Board minuted at its in-person meeting in June 2018 that online competitions do not meet the criteria for FEI ‘Competitions’ or ‘Events’ at this stage,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Therefore, they decided that online dressage competitions cannot be considered as FEI approved/recognized competitions, FEI dressage judges may not judge online competitions, official FEI dressage tests cannot be used, and organizers of online dressage competitions are not permitted to associate their online competitions with the FEI.
“This decision, which was reconfirmed during today’s [April 15] Board teleconference, was taken on the basis that the welfare of competing horses at online competitions cannot be assured as there are no anti-doping tests, stewarding or fitness to compete checks and that a level playing field cannot be assured with respect to rules compliance,” the statement continued.