I have keenly read debate on social media and elsewhere as to whether the all-sports-in-one-basket formula has reached its sell-by date, in the wake of the shambolic WEG at Normandy. I don’t know Bromont, but from what one can deduce from Google Earth, its outstanding natural beauty is equally matched by physical constraints. I hope that on returning from Caen, the 2018 OC made haste to engage the local community about how to achieve one-way traffic systems from many miles out.
There has still been no formal public apology or acknowledgement of the scale of the spectator disaster from the Normandy OC or the FEI. I guess we won’t get one now; it’s just not the FEI’s way. The facility to blank-out-things-that-go-wrong-and-bash-on-regardless must be a condition of accepting any executive role at Lausanne. This brings me neatly to this week’s FEI farrago special – the so-called eventing Nations Cup.
I say “so-called” because while “Nations Cup” implies a prestigious global contest, the eventing version is fast disappearing down its own vortex. The most recent Montelibretti leg in southern Italy attracted just one visiting side, a German squad of C-listers, and neither they nor the hosts managed to complete. Indeed, just one Italian got round.If you don’t believe me, here are the results.
For those who don’t follow eventing, if two or fewer riders complete per nation, they take the worst final score plus 1,000 penalty points. This formula enables a final team classification. It’s normally utilized as a service to the lesser lights at a major championship, though, not to decide the winners.
The Nations Cup, run as a CIC three-star, has been underwritten by the FEI since 2012, having failed to interest a sponsor from inception. The eventing World Cup experience showed you can’t cut and paste formulae from show jumping and dressage. Its last sponsor, HSBC, soon spotted they’d been sold a lemon and its decision not to renew should be telling somebody that apart from the main four-stars, there really isn’t much around which you can contrive an eventing series.
Following last weekend’s Italian fiasco, FEI HQ had to unravel a spaghetti-like mess; that’s presumably why its routine press bulletin – a masterpiece of brevity – plopped into media mailboxes some 48 hours after Montelibretti had completed.
So here’s a summary. Montelibretti: Germans scramble over slightly more fences than its sole rival and wins 11 series points. Aachen: Jung, Auffarth and colleagues trounce seven other crack teams using it as a WEG selection trial and are rewarded the same – 11 series points. Incredibly, Montelibretti even went ahead with a podium ceremony. Check out the tightly-cropped picture of the bemused-looking “winners” here. At least someone in the FEI press office has a sense of humour. The term “Roman holiday” is actually a nod to ancient gladiatorial contests and the English dictionary defines it as “enjoyment or satisfaction derived from observing the suffering of others.”
Montelibretti was, of course, scheduled after WEG, by which time the likes of Britain and France had run out of travel budget. Aachen was the best supported leg with eight teams, but then again Aachen is always a special case. Strzegom in Poland attracted six teams, some possibly on a recce because it hosts the European championships in 2017. Nowhere else has had more than five. Houghton, UK, had only three “overseas” teams, even though numerous foreign nationals are based here.
In the specialist show jumping at WEG, the less skilled were able to lurch round the opening phases because their team contest is structured to allow emerging nations to have a go over a less difficult track and hopefully fail to qualify for the next stage, before they do themselves any damage. A similar formula worked effectively at the inaugural Furusiyya Nations Cup final at Barcelona last year and got a fantastic result: multi-continental representation, yet the “right” countries on the podium. In purist show jumping, course-builders also have time to assess the capability of those who have turned up and can adjust the track, if need be, on the day.
Eventing has no such fail-safes. When you create a global series in a risk sport, you have a moral duty to ensure participants are up to it.I hope the FEI finally takes note of the countries voting with their feet and axes the eventing Nations Cup before its few hangers-on are pushed even further out of their comfort zones.
On the subject of catachresis, FEI missives often use “whitewash” to describe a resounding victory in a team competition, when the correct definition of whitewash, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is “a deliberate attempt to conceal unpleasant or incriminating facts about a person or organization in order to protect their reputation.”
So here’s a story the FEI might find handy as a reminder of what a whitewash actually is. It is now six months and 16 days since the British newspaper I write for, the Daily Telegraph, handed the FEI clear photographic evidence of Sheikh Hamdan junior riding two horses using the same identity at the Numana CEI in Italy and on the gold medal UAE team at the 2012 world endurance championships at Euston two months later. The FEI passed this immediately to its integrity unit to investigate, revealing it was aware of rumours about Marmoog’s identity at the time. Meanwhile, the son and heir of the husband of the outgoing FEI president was free to compete at WEG 2014, which he won.
Despite regular enquiries, we are told the investigation is ongoing. As my co-blogger Karen Robinson recently recorded, no one can explain why something so important to the FEI’s credibility is taking so long. If the tiniest thing had emerged to exonerate Hamdan it would surely have been announced months ago, with all the speed of a Group VII rider going at break-leg pace over 160k.
I am feeling super helpful today, so if the investigators are still scratching its heads, here is a witness list and suggestions of how to track them down: Saaed Al Tayer, chef d’equipe of the UAE team at Euston 2012 – easily contactable as he was on the FEI’s Endurance Strategic Planning Group that spent half a year setting out ways to curb cheating; Mohammed Essa, head of the Euston 2012 OC, must be known to Lausanne as recruited to the FEI’s endurance clean-up task force, until removed after public concern about his links to the Maktoums; Juma Punti Dachs, the Maktoums’ main endurance trainer, who appears in numerous photographs riding alongside Hamdan on the two Marmoogs – Juma is vice-chairman of the FEI endurance committee, and the only person whose barn was raided by the UK drugs authorities in 2013, so I guess they have his phone number too. Then there is Sheikh Mohammed, also photographed riding alongside the two Marmoogs. As a head of state, Sheikh Moh is not, of course, someone you can call up without prior arrangement, but I am pretty sure he and his main entourage are on speaking terms with senior FEI personnel: during WEG, a snapper who knows I am interested in endurance shenanigans showed me shots of the main dramatis personae in deep and serious conversation around the time the UAE team had just crashed out of Sartilly.
I reproach myself now for not asking Mr. Al Tayer about Marmoog at the post-medal press conference in Caen. He was representing Hamdan who, forgetting WEG was in his diary, had to fly back to Dubai for a prior engagement.
However, based on the previous day’s press conference I am certain any questions not directly related to this WEG 2014 endurance would have been abruptly rejected. At open meetings elsewhere, specifically called to discuss rule enforcement, Belgian chef d’equipe Pierre Arnould was virtually shouted down when asking about Marmoog. He was later sacked from the FEI endurance committee for having the gumption to say out loud what everyone else is thinking.
Censorship is another unwholesome trait our sport is now copying from its richer member states; but that’s a big topic all of its own, so we’ll park it for another day.