The Fédération Equestre Internationale Bureau suspended the national federation of the United Arab Emirates on March 12 for an indeterminate period following an investigation by the FEI into major horse welfare issues and non-compliance with FEI rules and regulations in the discipline of endurance.
The Bureau, chaired by FEI President Ingmar De Vos, was unanimous in its decision to suspend the UAE National Federation.
Under the terms of the suspension, which was imposed immediately, the UAE National Federation may not attend or be represented at any session or meeting of any body of the FEI, may not organize any international events, and its members cannot participate in any international events. However, the Bureau has ruled that UAE athletes from disciplines other than endurance may compete under the FEI flag in international competitions organized outside the UAE.
The Bureau has clearly outlined to the UAE Federation that any potential reinstatement to FEI membership is dependent on the UAE Federation signing an agreement with the FEI under which the UAE Federation pledges to take such action as the FEI Bureau deems necessary to assure the FEI and all stakeholders that the UAE Federation is protecting the welfare of the horse and complying fully with the FEI rules and regulations.
“The decision to suspend a national federation is not something that is taken lightly, and we only should do this if no other remedy can be found,” said De Vos. “Sadly this was the only option left, but we have to take our responsibility and must never be afraid of tackling major issues head-on. Where horse welfare is concerned the FEI has to show leadership and solve problems in a structural way without making any concessions.
“We were confident that strict enforcement of the new rules implemented on Aug. 1, 2014, following adoption of the recommendations from the Endurance Strategic Planning Group, would be effective in reducing the numbers of catastrophic injuries and fatalities in the UAE, but regretfully this has not been the case,” he continued. “There have also been other major non-compliance issues, so in the end we had no other choice than taking this drastic measure to deal with an unacceptable situation.”
As an interim emergency measure to protect horse welfare and preserve the integrity of FEI rules and regulations at FEI events while the FEI Bureau was considering the executive board’s recommendations for further action, the secretary general Sabrina Zeender removed the two remaining endurance events in the UAE from the FEI calendar two weeks ago, a move that garnered widespread support from national federations and welfare groups.
The Swiss Equestrian Federation (FSSE) applauded the FEI’s move to suspend the UAE Federation and released this statement: “Having taken this decision, the Bureau of the FEI and its new president demonstrate courage and send a strong message in favor of the welfare of horses to all member federations. The FSSE gives its full support in this matter.
“In light of this suspension, the FSSE has decided to further reinforce the measures it announced last February 24 by prohibiting its riders as well as its endurance officials to participate in any endurance competition in the UAE for as long as this federation is suspended by the FEI.
“Furthermore, it reiterates its strong reservations about the holding of the World Endurance Championship planned in Dubai in 2016. The FSSE will pay close attention to the developments of this current situation before considering whether to participate in the championships or not.”
The U.S. Equestrian Federation and the American Endurance Ride Conference also applauded the actions of the FEI.
“The USEF is proud to stand with the international equestrian community in condemnation of horse abuse,” said USEF CEO Chris Welton.
“We’re very pleased; we are very happy,” said AERC President Dr. Michael Campbell. “We commend the FEI for doing this. By making this suspension, they’re acting in the welfare of horses and in the interest of fair play among the riders.
“Hopefully, it means we’re going to have a cleaner and safer sport for horses and riders in the future,” he continued. “How the United Arab Emirates reacts, I don’t know. But hopefully they’ll learn from this, and this will mean for a better sport throughout the world and a safer sport for horses. I think we can expect nothing but good from this. This is very appropriate, and, in fact, I kind of hope it will allow us to get off the front page with broken horses and cheating and ringers and drugs and all that other negative stuff. I hope this will put us back on a positive path worldwide.”
The AERC board also voted unanimously to request that the FEI cancel the 2016 World Endurance Championship in Dubai, reopen bids for the venue, and denying the UAE the opportunity to bid on the venue.
The UAE Federation has 30 days to appeal the suspension to the FEI Tribunal.
Separately, the FEI has requested the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit to conduct a full investigation into allegations of fake events and the duplication of results at FEI endurance events in the UAE.