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an eventing death in Italy

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  • an eventing death in Italy

    Today, at the Italian 3* championships at Montelibretti (near Rome), Austrian rider Sebastian Steiner was killed in a fall.

    Austrian rider killed in horse trials fall

    According to a report in Il Messagero, Steiner fell at fence 10C, which was a drop of some kind. The horse was uninjured.

    Another sad day for the sport.

    Because this incident happened in Italy, a judicial investigation must now take place. In deaths that occur at sporting events, Italian authorities often file charges of 'culpable homicide' which is roughly the equivalent to our manslaughter charge. The best-known case of this is probably in the 1994 death of Ayrton Senna at Imola.

    One of the salient points in Italian law is whether the athlete died at the venue or in the hospital. The law is harsher if the person dies at the venue so there was some speculation that an already-dead Senna was whisked away to hospital in order to avoid the additional legal hassles.

    I'm not sure what the case was today, although the Italian reports said a medical specialist performed life-saving interventions/resuscitation (however, my Italian skills are limited).

    All this to say the situation could get very interesting.

    Last year, in a discussion of eventing safety, I wrote a post about how the threat of serious legal charges in Italy has made other sports adopt stricter safety measures.

    from Horse Deaths and the Future of the Sport

    Some lessons from other sports...

    Formula 1. In 1994 following Ayrton Senna's and Roland Ratzenberger's deaths (in separate crashes) at Imola, Italian authorities charged the race director, the heads of the Williams team and some track officials with manslaughter. All were eventually cleared but there's nothing like a manslaughter charge to motivate you to investigate and improve.

    Since 1994, there have been no fatal accidents in F1.

    Cycling. Cycling is a festival of pharmaceuticals with a bit of pedaling about on two wheels. The UCI (governing body) went to laughable lengths to not clean up the sport. But then local authorities in Spain, Belgium, France and Italy started to crack down on all the drug trafficking in team cars, arresting people, issuing subpoenas, etc. It also helped that sponsors filed lawsuits, not wanting to pay out to dopers. But it was getting hard to field teams for races in countries where riders would be pursued by the police as well as the peleton.

    It's now safe to say that cycling is beginning to clean up. But it took some serious legal intervention that came from outside of the UCI.

    Fencing. Fencing used to be fairly lax about equipment. Fencers used old masks, worn-out clothing, fought with weapons made of brittle carbon steel. And people occasionally died or got seriously injured, usually due to equipment failure and broken blades. A broken weapon blade is a lethal implement. But fencing is a small world and rarely makes the sports pages.

    But then, in 1982, came the Smirnov Incident. At a competition in Rome, the USSR Olympic champion foilist was wearing an old mask, so when his opponent's blade broke, it pierced his mask and went through his eye socket into his brain. And yes, he died.

    The Italian authorities wanted to treat Smirnov's death as a manslaughter case. The governing body of fencing, the FIE, didn't want this and promised the Italians that they'd make the sport safer. The FIE is like the FEI in more ways than just the letters, so it took about two years before the safety regs came into effect. But the FIE and NGBs formulated standards and safety measures for equipment and clothing, as well as mandating testing/inspection of ALL equipment at the start of every competition. Blades are now made from maraging steel but they still break.

    There have been no deaths in fencing since Smirnov's.

    Conclusions? Cycling and fencing required outside pressure to change their sports. F1 did it through bold, take-no-prisoners leadership.

    So, with tongue party in cheek and partly sticking out at TPTB, maybe what eventing needs most is a high-profile accident in Italy or Spain. Italian and Spanish authorities tend to take on these cases -- just like with the recent CIA rendition trial in Italy or the torture stuff in Spain.

  • #2
    Very sad, thoughts and prayers to the family.


    • #3
      I quake every time I hear of a loss of horse or rider. I so wish there were some way this sport could be what it is without the losses. It's a crazy beautiful bunch who do this knowing that fellow athletes die for this passion.

      Thoughts and healing wishes for the family.