Candidates for the FEI presidency have now published their manifestos, but even with this belated opportunity to widen debate into issues rather than personalities, Ingmar de Vos is still getting flak. The current FEI secretary general has controversial ambitions to change FEI statutes so that, if elected, he becomes the first salaried president.
Swiss rival Pierre Genecand, who commissioned the legal advice that undermined the FEI’s own interpretation what was permissible, and Javier Revuelta (the Spanish lawyer who withdrew from the presidential race in protest at “process”) both think de Vos’s suggestion could lead to a Tribunal action that could damage horse sport in the eyes of the IOC. If a vote to change statutes ends up being staged in April, it will be the second successive EGM aimed at enabling the ambitions for/of specific individuals, and that’s weak governance. There is also the small matter of how the FEI operational budget will afford the extra salary, the market rate for which suggests would be in excess of 500,000 Swiss francs, unless it comes out of sponsorship revenues which, of course, would be highly unorthodox.
So I regret having added to Ingmar’s angst by using the word “caretaker” when speculating about a possible future role for outgoing president Princess Haya. In a letter to national federations, de Vos advised he would ask Haya to make herself available for a “handover” period of then undisclosed duration if he wins. I am happy to clarify that Ingmar did not write “caretaker” in his circular, which pre-dated publication of his manifesto. The latter, I have to say, is an impressively-presented document and a tad more thorough than most. It should be, too, for Ingmar has a three-year head start in understanding the issues that concern the many different branches of the FEI’s fast growing family. Recognition of all of these is essential for survival in the Olympic movement – and for winning the decisive raft of presidential votes.
But on the subject of hand-over, whatever word you use, if Ingmar wins and the Princess then accepts his invitation, be it days, weeks or months she will retain an influence over governance, and that can’t be correct. Ingmar went on to amplify this in a way that will only stoke the rumours that he is Haya’s preferred candidate. He said: “My intention – with the best interests of the organisation and the sport at heart – is to build on Princess Haya’s legacy and ask her to lend guidance and insights on the role in the initial period. This is testimony to the strength of my working relationship with HRH Princess Haya, and I do not believe all candidates would follow this same path.”
Well, indeed. If four aspiring presidents don’t think it’s necessary/appropriate/constitutional to ask Haya to hold their hands, why is the sole candidate that thinks it is also the one who least needs help in understanding the role? You then have to ask if Ingmar going to be distracted for an initial period by simultaneously holding the hand of the new secretary general? Had Ingmar pursued his original ambition of being secretary general and president concurrently, which of his own hands would be holding the other?
Trivia aside, there is a good chance the candidate popularly perceived as Haya’s favourite will win, because the balance of power is held by the zillions of national federations so obviously in thrall to her.
Presumably there is a blizzard of lobbying behind the scenes, but to many it might well seem easier to go with what they know because the manifestos are the only means of objective, direct comparison until the “meet the candidates” session at the FEI General Assembly on December 12th, two days before the vote. Genecand was the only candidate who declared when it was still assumed Princess Haya would run again, and thus has demonstrated essential courage. John McEwen is well known through his existing FEI role, but due to the late scramble to declare after Haya confirmed she was not re-standing, Ulf Helgstrand, Pierre Durand and Revuelta had little time to expand their profiles outside Europe.
Ingmar reminded me that a “caretaker” presidency was not allowed by FEI statute, the irony of which made me smile. I couldn’t find any reference one way or the other to caretakers, handovers or hand-holders in the section of FEI statutes devoted to presidential matters, though I did find something else of potential fascination: the election procedure, which suggests the FEI had never anticipated a scenario involving quite so many candidates.
If no one gets two-thirds of all votes cast at the first ballot, statute provides for the winner to be the first to secure a “simple majority” (which the English dictionary defines as half the votes plus one) in subsequent ballots. The candidate with least votes drops out each time. I am not a statistician but, depending where federations switch their loyalties if their first, second and even third preferences have to drop out, the future president could easily be someone who was only the minority’s first choice in the initial ballot. That’s democracy for you.
All the candidates address the importance of rule enforcement and transparency. So will more urgency be applied to unresolved scandals after December 14th?
Yes, folks, it’s time for our regular count-up: it’s now eight months and 20 days since I provided the FEI with picture evidence of the outgoing president’s stepson Sheikh Hamdan riding two different horses under the identity of Marmoog (aka Prince de la Sabliere, aka JSAS) in consecutive CEIs during 2012, and still no word of progress in the official “investigation.”
It is not just about alleged rule-breaches. There are huge bio-security risks when horses are not who they are claimed to be. Furthermore, the FEI is working to ease the movement of sport horses, so why isn’t it visibly clamping down on identity fraud? Especially when we get a comment today from Haya that “It’s a very difficult balancing act between promoting the free movement of horses while assuring governments that sanitary barriers are still in place, ” in response to news of the sudden departure of FEI vet department head Graeme Cooke who had previously secured great advances in that regard.
The FEI’s laughable qualification criteria for endurance of course permit anyone to ride a horse he’s scarcely clapped eyes on before, so it’s arguable that Hamdan is entitled not to have noticed “Marmoog” was not the same chestnut he was listed as competing previous time out.
But as the FEI readily admitted that white-faced Marmoog passed the 2012 world championship pre-ride identity checks using the documents assigned to snip-faced Marmoog, it’s pretty obvious that somebody, somewhere in the giant Maktoum operation knows how to chop and change passports.
Actually, fiddling with microchips is not difficult, according to University of Amsterdam security researcher Jeroen van Beek, who made headlines in 2008 when cloning two new-style British (human) passports with digital images of Osama bin Laden that fooled a UN agency e-passport reader.
Jeroen said you wouldn’t need to alter an existing chip; you simply disable its mini transmitter by holding any small device capable of emitting a short high voltage spurt over the skin near the microchip. No scanner will ever again pick up its presence so you don’t even need to cut it out. You then insert a new chip, which can be bought “over the counter” and programmed with your preferred new details. He even emailed me pictures of something you can make at home by cannibalising normal domestic appliances.
A contact who usually seems well-informed reckons the FEI will do something about Marmoog only after Princess Haya has gone, to minimise embarrassment to her, even though the sanctions for fraud can be as a little as a one-month ban. But if she ends up sticking around for “hand-over,” how much longer will that be?