Ingmar De Vos enjoyed a landslide victory in the election for role of president of the Fédération Equestre Internationale at the FEI General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan.
De Vos landed 98 votes of a possible 131. He only needed 88 to win outright at the first ballot. His nearest rival was France’s Pierre Durand, the 1988 Olympic show jumping champion, who garnered 21 votes. De Vos has been serving as the Secretary General of the FEI since 2011.
There were only six votes each for Britain’s John McEwen, who was vice-president to Haya, and for Swiss financier Pierre Genecand.
De Vos then chose John Madden of the United States as his first vice president and Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa of Bahrain as second vice-president, in the interests of “regional balance.”
McEwen was later re-elected head of the FEI veterinary commission. Ulf Helgstrand of Denmark withdrew his presidential bid just before the first ballot, for undisclosed reasons.
However, some confusion has now arisen about De Vos’s well reported proposals for the presidential role to be remunerated. In his first press conference as president, he downplayed suggestions that this had been a core part of his candidacy, as had been stated in his personal email to all national federations dated October 31.
In that, De Vos had advised his was abandoning any ambition to be secretary-general and president concurrently. He wrote: “I have therefore taken the decision that, if elected, I will immediately resign as secretary-general and will propose to hold an Extraordinary General Assembly during the Sports Forum in 2015 to modify the Statutes to make it possible that the position of President be remunerated. This would be in line with common practices in many international sports.”
Rival candidates had also opposed his initial dual-role ambitions, on grounds of illegality and conflict of interest. Former Olympic eventer Javier de Revuelta, by profession a lawyer working for the Spanish government, even withdrew from the presidential race in protest.
Princess Haya announced only in August that she had decided not to stand for a third four-year term, citing family commitments and her humanitarian work in Gaza. In April this year, the FEI statutes had been changed to allow a third consecutive term in expectation she would stand again. De Vos also told national federations in the October 31 email that if elected, he may invite Haya to consider being available for a hand-over period, to provide “guidance and insight.”
De Vos, 51, is the first non-Royal FEI president in 60 years. De Vos, 51, holds degrees in political science, business administration and international and European law, and started his career as an advisor to the Belgian Senate. He joined the Belgian Equestrian Federation as managing director in 1990, and held the additional role of Secretary General from 1997 to 2011.
During his time at the Belgian National Federation, De Vos was chef de mission for the Belgian Equestrian Team at all FEI World Equestrian Games™ from 1990 to 2010 and at several Olympic Games. He was also Secretary General of the European Equestrian Federation from 2010, the year the organization was formed, until 2011, when he was recruited to the FEI by Princess Haya within hours following the resignation of Alex McLinn as secretary general.
He said: “I am honoured and overwhelmed by this enormous vote and I would from the bottom of my heart thank you for your vote and your confidence.
“I also want to thank my colleague candidates for the great sport they have given, and for the level of debate. We have shown that we are a grown-up family.”
De Vos went on to thank his friend and mentor Jacky Buchmann, who recently had been re-elected as president of the Belgian Equestrian Federation. And finally, to prolonged applause, he thanked the outgoing president, Princess Haya.
“Words cannot explain what she has done for our organisation. She has shown leadership, she has guided us through difficult waters, she has innovated us, she has modernised us. She has left us with a great legacy and I believe, together with many of you, that it is our responsibility to preserve the legacy and go on with the roadmap she has shown us,” De Vos said. “Words are not enough to thank her. Over the years we have become good friends, and I am thankful and grateful for your support.”
In a separate tribute, Sheikh Khalid described Haya as our “favourite president” and underlined her work to ensure equal support and opportunities to all member federations, describing her as a “lionhearted” and “selfless” individual.
Haya herself asked those who had not voted for De Vos not to make him fight for their support. “We have not got time,” she said. “Remember that every horse needs a pat at the end of his round.”
Looking forward, she also said issues had to be resolved within the FEI family and not in media headlines.
Other headlines included:
• Olympic Games: Princess Haya had just attended the IOC’s at December’s Extraordinary Session in Monte Carlo and explained the likely impact of the IOC’s 40 recommendations on equestrian sport.
The FEI would need to embrace the big picture and “play our part in safeguarding the future of the most valuable single event in sports.” The recommendations demanded a change in mindset that equestrian sport would need constant updating—an agenda already raised by all five presidential candidates.
Changes to the Olympic bidding process to make the Games more affordable were significant for equestrian sports. Temporary venues like Greenwich in 2012 would become the norm and attempting to create permanent equestrian legacy where none had existed was no longer an ambition. Instead the IOC will promote maximum use of existing facilities or temporary venues.
The IOC also endorsed organizing preliminary competitions or even entire sports outside host cities, and even different countries. “Transport and quarantine have been a problem for us in the past but now the IOC has introduced some flexibility and alternatives,” said Haya.
Equestrian sports “adapt our requirements to what is necessary and practical. We don’t want to be the sport that needs the most requirements,” she said. “We have the ability to manage all the details ourselves.”
The IOC’s move towards an events-based programme means it will be looking for “performances” which end with a medal ceremony. “I’m convinced we’ll stay in the Olympic programme but there is no room for complacency,” Haya warned.
An update was given on preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics by FEI Director, Games and Championships,Tim Hadaway. He reported that upgrades to the existing Olympic centre are underway and will ultimately include both new and renovated stables, resurfacing of all arenas and a veterinary clinic. Landscaping for the cross-country course is nearing completion and conditioning of the grass footing is underway. All other aspects of operational planning, including horse import and export, athlete transportation and accommodation, as well as anti-doping and veterinary aspects, show “good signs of progress.”
The two-star Olympic Eventing equestrian test event will take place from Aug. 6-9, 2015.
• World Cup: There will be a re-launched World Cup show jumping league in North America from 2015, sponsored by Longines. Twenty-five shows tendered for the 14 qualifiers, which comprise seven each on the East and West coasts.
• Clean sport: Positive dope tests are fractionally up in Groups I and II and down in the rest of the world, but John McEwen said the actual numbers were so small to not be of concern. However, the FEI is to retain the current minimum suspensions for persons responsible found guilty in anti-doping cases at two years for a banned substance and six months for a controlled one. This means the FEI has not followed the World Anti-Doping Agency’s recommendation to increase the minimum ban to four years.
McEwen paid tribute to the work of former vet department head Graeme Cooke, whose sudden resignation last month is the subject of much speculation.
Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, asked if the FEI challenged the “status quo” enough regarding horse welfare and urged equestrianism not to “hide” from social media who can “whip up a storm” if horses are seen as suffering in the name of entertainment. Dressage is the result of intensive training: “When does this cross the line into abuse?” he said. “Absence of evidence is not ‘no evidence’.”
He raised the issue of “generational shift” and wondered if there was enough “young blood” in decision-making bodies to recognise that perceptions of welfare had changed. “We must be on the front foot regarding attrition rates, not just in competition but also in training.”
• FEI Tribunal: Tribunal president Eric Elstad said there were only six endurance anti-doping cases this year compared with a spike of 17 in 2011. This year two PRs have been suspended for two years, as have two “additional” PRs; one was the owner of the horse, who instructed their rider not to present the horse for sampling. One endurance case is still pending an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In non-doping cases, one protest against the results of a driving competition was declared inadmissible through missing the 30-minute deadline for objections.
He underlined that there is automatic disqualification from the competition for a positive finding, even of the rider is exonerated (as in the case of Jock Paget). Under new rules, the disqualification ahead of the full Tribunal decision will become the norm. “I am not happy to say our caseload has increased a little. We are trying hard to get through these cases faster, but when we have the lawyers on the one side, the importance for the PRs, the scientific evidence, it is not easy,” said Elstad.
• Endurance crisis: The work of the Endurance Strategic Planning Group cost 500,000 Swiss francs. ESPG drew up the tougher new rules and made other recommendations to address the doping and injury concerns in the sport, notably the Middle East. The Equine Community Integrity Unit now has staff resident in the Middle East. Use of CCTV at two rides in Abu Dhabi proved its deterrent effect, said ECIU head Lord Stevens.
• WEG: The organisers of the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games said they received 265 complaints from people regarding the traffic chaos at Haras du Pin on eventing cross-country day, representing about 1,200 people. These spectators will not receive refunds but they will all be sent a commemorative DVD of the competition.