The Fédération Equestre Internationale board has suspended the national federation of the United Arab Emirates following a detailed investigation into the circumstances around two national endurance events in January and February 2020—the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and The President’s Cup— that should have been held as international endurance events since the number of foreign athletes far exceeded the quota permitted for national events.
Under article 101 of the FEI general regulations, national events must be limited to no more than four national federations and/or more than 15 foreign athletes aside from “athletes living outside their country of nationality” (Article 119.6 of the FEI general regulations). However, in this particular case, the investigation led by Bird & Bird LLP, found that a total of 93 foreign athletes from 24 different NFs participated in the 2020 Sheikh Mohammed Cup and a total of 88 foreign athletes from 21 different NFs participated in the 2020 President’s Cup.
The FEI board met via videoconference on Sept. 16 to hear presentations from Bird & Bird and the UAE national federation legal representatives. Legal counsel from both parties responded to questions from the FEI board prior to the board members reaching their in-principle decision, which has been formally notified to the UAE NF on Sept. 24, 2020.
The board concluded that the UAE national federation had violated the FEI rules, in particular, Articles 101, 109.2 and 100.7.2 of the FEI general regulations and article 2.8 of the FEI statutes. In the case of the Sheikh Mohammed Cup, the violations were deemed intentional, and in the case of the President’s Cup, the violations were considered at the very least negligent. The board also concluded that the reason for re-classifying the events as national events was to avoid the application of the new FEI endurance rules that took effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Given the serious nature of the rule violations, the FEI board unanimously agreed that a significant sanction was required and in accordance with Article 8.3 of the FEI Statutes, the UAE NF will be suspended from Sept. 24, 2020, as follows:
- A full suspension of the UAE NF (all activities across all FEI disciplines) until Dec. 31, 2020
- A suspension of the UAE NF’s activities in relation to the discipline of endurance until March 31, 2021
The suspension also affects any events (including national events) in the UAE, which become “unsanctioned events” during the suspension period, and any FEI athlete, horse or official participating will be liable to a period of ineligibility of up to six months in accordance with articles 113.4 and 155.7 of the FEI general regulations.
The board also imposed a financial sanction on the organizers, requiring them to pay a percentage of the prize money—50% for the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and 10% for The President’s Cup—as well as the organizing dues that would have been payable to the FEI had the events been held as CEIs. The board also decided that the UAE NF must pay the FEI’s legal fees. The suspensions imposed on the UAE NF will remain in place until all financial sanctions have been paid in full to the FEI, as per article 164.5 of the FEI general regulations.
“The decision to suspend the UAE national federation was not taken lightly, but it reflects our commitment to good governance, integrity and horse welfare,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said.
“Regrettably we were forced to suspend the UAE Federation in 2015 following an investigation into endurance horse welfare issues and non-compliance with FEI rules and regulations,” he continued. “It is extremely disheartening that we are tackling similar issues in 2020 and that we have had to revert to the suspension of the national federation. However, the UAE national federation’s clear intent to avoid the application of the new rules at the biggest events in their calendar was reflected in their actions around these two events, and, as a community, we cannot allow individual NFs to apply the rules only as and when it suits them.
“It is my sincere hope that this suspension will drive change within the federation and give rise to a new era for endurance in the UAE equestrian community,” De Vos concluded.
The UAE national federation was notified of the decision by the FEI on Sept. 24, 2020, and has 21 days to appeal the decision to the FEI tribunal.