I recently heard a fantastic put-down in a trailer for a TV show. A new boss introduces himself: “Hello, I am replacing Professor Dalton.” A waspish underling retorts: “No, you are not replacing him. You are merely getting his job.”
The election campaign for the new FEI president is becoming a bit like that, for one thing is for sure: you can’t “replace” Princess Haya. The emerging snag is that barely half the six candidates can afford to do it from their private means. All are non-royal, professional types including a heart surgeon and a vet.
More than one, I am told, has mooted that the president should now be salaried, though the one most public on this sensitive matter is the secretary general, Ingmar de Vos. If elected, initially he wanted to hold concurrent roles as salaried FEI secretary general and president.
But this has led to a growing dispute, resulting in a compromise proposal which could see Princess Haya remain caretaker president while the future ability of de Vos to pay his bills is sorted out.
Legal advice first indicated the dual role was permissible under FEI statute and Swiss law. But then presidential rival Pierre Genecand, who is Swiss and, therefore, more au fait with Swiss legal nuances than the others, commissioned an opinion from professor Margareta Baddeley, doctor in law and vice-rector of the University of Geneva. She concluded the “accumulation of two positions” required a statute change and, according to Genecand, this is not possible before 2016.
Genecand says: “Under the present statutes, should Mr De Vos be elected, he would have to renounce his position as secretary general with immediate effect. Unless he does so, the election could be invalidated by the relevant Tribunal, a scenario which could potentially be highly damaging for both the image of the FEI and equestrian sports internationally.”
From an email to national federations circulated by de Vos a few days ago, one infers professor Baddeley’s interpretation has legs. Ingmar has now abandoned the dual role notion. If elected, he would a) immediately resign as secretary general; b) appoint an interim successor; c) ask Princess Haya to consider remaining president for a hand-over period; and d) call an Extraordinary General Assembly (EGA) during the FEI sports forum in Lausanne next April to vote for a statute change that would remunerate the president.
The FEI appointed an independent scrutiny committee for the election campaign and, when de Vos declared, set out measures enabling him to carry out his existing duties without gaining an advantage over the other candidates – Genecand (Switzerland), Ulf Helgstrand (Denmark), John McEwen (Britain), Pierre Durand (France) and Javier Revuelta del Peral (Spain).
None of this has stopped the campaign turning into a mess. I asked the FEI what would happen if de Vos was voted in but the EGA then rejected his proposal. Should the election be re-staged? Could his old job be kept open?
But HQ – presumably first consulting the secretary general – said it could not comment on this (purely procedural, factual) matter, because it had to remain “neutral.” So I had then to contact de Vos privately, wearing his separate candidate’s hat. He referred me straight back to the FEI – give up, I really do – on the specific topic of who had paid for the original legal advice.
Regarding a hypothetical “no” vote at the EGA, Ingmar provided this candid reply: “I have been clear about my intentions and, in the event I am elected, I would be disappointed if the EGA were to reject the proposal to change the statutes as it is part of my candidacy.
“The FEI is now a professional organisation that needs professionalism at all levels. Many international federations and organisations now have presidents that receive a remuneration or honorarium. There is nothing unusual about this.
“It is, in my view, not a good practice that the presidency would only be limited to volunteers that can afford it.
“If the EGA were to reject the proposal to change the statutes, I would of course respect this and would continue as a volunteer [president], though in that case I would probably also have other occupations not related to the FEI.
“It would be at the discretion of the FEI Bureau to set an appropriate salary according to market standards.”
I don’t have a lot of contact with Ingmar. The FEI prefers the press to communicate by email and they supply written answers, no doubt because they fear we pesky hacks will misquote them.
What I can say on the rare occasions I have seen him in action at in an open meeting is that he can admit most charmingly when he’s got it wrong. When the FEI was forced to u-turn on the appointment of Maktoum employees to the endurance clean-up task force (that resulted from a meeting between de Vos, FEI vice-president John McEwen and Sheikh Mohammed during the Dubai World Cup in March) Ingmar conceded it was not ideal. He had reasoned that “those who had been part of the problem should be part of the solution.”
So hats-off for revealing that his combined secretary general/presidential ambitions have concerned some of his own supporters, and for apologising it has “become a distraction from the important issue of choosing a suitable president.”
Genecand was the only candidate to emerge well before Haya confirmed she would not re-stand. Genecand was, therefore, the sole candidate with the cojones to take her on direct, so it is maybe no surprise it also fell to him to commission an alternative legal opinion that endorses what others were privately thinking.
In fairness, Princess Haya’s last-minute confirmation she was not re-standing gave everyone else little time to properly consider their candidacy or prepare a manifesto. The British Equestrian Federation was certainly intending to support Haya, so had only days to re-group and promote McEwen.
But making up process on the hoof is not the right message for an international sports body. It is also sure to confuse some of the newer FEI member federations who, as we saw at the last EGA, can misunderstand what they are voting for.
And it was an oversight that these permutations were not addressed at the time of declaration – not least when the person most affected is already in charge of the executive and should know procedure like the back of his hand.