It’s been interesting to read reaction on social media to the FEI’s suspension of the UAE, posted by disparate (and maybe desperate) parties around the world who make their living selling endurance horses to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
It is strongly rumoured that if the suspension drags on, the UAE will simply set up an independent regulatory body to organise its favoured style of racing-speed, high attrition endurance. By all accounts, their public disgrace has not hindered the UAE’s current buying spree in Europe.
My first, admittedly facetious, reaction was: why bother with the farrago of creating a new governing body? Just as easy to pick a piste and charge off, mob-handed, cobbling up a results sheet later just in case anyone wanted one, as is already a well-honed practice in those parts?
But then I realised that the UAE actually like a semblance of rules. Half the fun is in breaking the rules, and seeing just how much they can get away with. They just can’t help themselves – so much so that one rider has triggered a brand-new scandal even while grounded.
We need first to rewind to last summer, when the Netherlands started fielding horses produced by UAE-based trainer/rider Anzaq Mehmood. One senior Dutch official, Marc van den Dungen, resigned in protest.
Previously, the Dutch federation had been actively campaigning against doping and cheating in the UAE, so the collaboration was strange. It was packaged as a ground-breaking initiative to promote the acceptable face of UAE endurance in concert with one of the most upstanding equestrian nations in the world. Anzaq has spent time in the UK and a lot of people here tell me he is a decent chap, not associated with any of the offending stables, and a practitioner of “proper” endurance. In due course, the Netherlands’ Marijke Visser won individual silver at WEG riding a horse prepared by Mehmood.
Under the terms of the FEI suspension, UAE-registered endurance riders are barred from competing in any FEI member country. But UAE-resident foreign nationals may compete if they apply to be “administered” by their home country. As an expatriate Pakistani, Anzaq was so entitled.
Last month, he was entered by Emile Docquier, the Dutch team coach, in a national ride at Schilde, Belgium, along with Visser who is based in Docquier’s barn. The Belgian federation asked the FEI if they could accept Anzaq’s entry; the FEI tells me it said yes, if the Pakistan federation authorised it.
However, upon later inspection, the Belgians thought the Pakistan federation’s “No Objection” document didn’t look or read right. Pakistan said they had issued no such thing. Both parties concluded it was forged and advised the FEI.
The plot certainly thickened on Thursday (May 7th) when the Dutch federation announced it was parting company with Docquier, citing a “difference of opinion”. This is purportedly unconnected with the Schilde issue, but if so it’s quite a coincidence that the faked document passed through Docquier’s office.
All the more astonishing is the cavalier supposition that no one would notice the document was skew-whiff. It is a seriously bad advertisement for Photoshop, looking more like something put together under cover of darkness in Colditz! Actually, I take that back: even in 1942, prisoners of war forging IDs for escape-purposes with crude, hand-made tools would have done a better of job aligning the type.
This alleged offence was headed off at the pass, and is hardly up there, in terms of audacity, with the phantom rides or the Marmoog horse-swap. Does it need more than a slap on the wrist? Well, yes.
First of all there are pictures of Anzaq on a horse, in company with Docquier, preparing to start at Schilde. Docquier wore a UAE-branded jacket which, though this was a national ride, is expressly against the terms of the FEI suspension.
After Anzaq was told he couldn’t compete, Visser also withdrew. She is reported to have worn UAE colours at another ride since.
This latest hiccup sadly reminds us that the rehabilitation of UAE endurance is not confined to what happens on its own shores.
There is a wearying inevitability that the UAE’s shoddy disrespect for authority infects the normally right-minded citizens who end up working with them. Surely no one is still deluding themselves that when it comes to leading by example, it’s the UAE that can be led?
Collectively, the Schilde incidents are an act of defiance towards the FEI by high profile equestrians who should know better. They, and all the others winding themselves up on Facebook about the “injustice” of the suspension, would benefit from re-reading what the FEI itself has published on the matter, and why the FEI Tribunal won’t, also of May 7th, countenance a temporary stay, pending a full hearing into the UAE’s Appeal.
I don’t envy those who have to decide how to sort this out. Emails must still be flying back and forth between northern Europe and the Punjab. Nearly two weeks after Schilde, the Dutch have at least tacitly acknowledged that their cosying-up to the UAE was a poor judgement call.