Lots of people have asked me why I didn’t launch into print the day the FEI lifted its suspension of the UAE. Well, the short answer was that it was a suspension, not a ban, and was always going to happen at some point. After all, the only way the UAE can prove they can behave themselves in FEI rides is by taking part in FEI rides.
The other factor was that I was so completely turned-off the subject by the cringe-worthy “welcome back” afforded to the UAE on social media from countries one rashly hoped were the decent practitioners of endurance. Most of the posters genuflecting and squealing “we’ve missed you” were youngsters who don’t maybe yet know better, or folk who make their living selling horses to the UAE. But still – yuck.
Even though some memories are short, happily today we have another jolt about the utter shamelessness of senior figures in UAE endurance community and their acolytes. Thirty horses (yes, 30) have just been disqualified from February’s President’s Cup as a result of falsified qualifications.
The FEI said all along it would excise the faked results from its database. It has now commenced this plus the marathon task of adjusting the results of real races where multiple participants were not qualified to start.
The UAE has certainly been given enough rope to hang itself by the FEI, in the conditions set for its return to competition. Bearing in mind this most outrageous piece of fakery, out of so much other fakery, occurred in January and February this year when the UAE was already on notice from the FEI that it was in very serious trouble indeed, is it likely to have undergone a collective personality transplant in a matter of months?
The horses disqualified from the President’s Cup come from 13 stables variously owned by the ruling Maktoum and Nayhan families. They represent 20 per cent of the President’s Cup starters. They include the runner-up, Kalifa, ridden by Suhail Al Ghailani. Hadeer, the ride of world champion Sheikh Hamdan, was not qualified for this or his previous two races with other riders.
Twelve of the horses were not qualified not only for the President’s Cup but for any of their FEI career starts. Two of these were the catch rides of Australian visitors Courtney Freeman and Brooke Warner, who I would imagine will feel pretty mortified when they find out.
A fair few more had only ever run once before, over 80km. These included Embrujo AG, the horse who created a further social media storm when pictured throughout the race wearing duct-taped visors and ear plugs.
The scam was unravelled earlier this year by yours truly. I looked into it after Horse & Hound magazine passed me a tip that a President’s Cup qualifier listed as taking place on January 21 this year simply didn’t.
I found it was part of a much wider pattern. A small team of volunteer helpers helped me identify 13 CEIs purportedly staged since at 2012 that had lifted their results from genuine events. You can read the background here.
The FEI says that in the end, a total of 15 faked sets of results were identified in the official investigation by the FEI Equine Community Integrity Unit, so the keyboard warriors did rather well!
My belief is that while some rides did not happen at all, others were started, but with no intention of ever doing more than a loop. One or two rides probably did take place, but did not produce the required results, so efforts were then taken to “enhance” them using a cut-and-paste method that, by then, offered the comfort that FEI software wouldn’t pick up.
The FEI had, by the way, already decided to suspend the UAE before the phantom rides were revealed. The official investigation has, I suspect deliberately, been kept separate from the FEI’s multiple other issues with the UAE, and thus remains up the FEI’s sleeve.
Many hundreds of horses and riders are potentially implicated, and decisions about further disciplinary action are awaited.
It’s hard to speculate what will happen in that regard. Starting a horse that isn’t qualified in endurance is tantamount to abuse. However, the penalty for abuse on the field of play is disqualification, and all these horses and riders have already been disqualified, so where do you go next with that?
Alternatively, the FEI has option to impose life bans on persons involved in fraud. Alas, though, although riders are ultimately the Persons Responsible, will there be a mass argument by the riders that no-one could know their horse wasn’t qualified, as they’d never seen it before?
The FEI continues to pay a very heavy price for allowing the practice of pairing up on the day to become the usual way of things in the Middle East (something the FEI Tribunal has been warning against since 2005). Despite all the draconian measures taken recently, the FEI still seems reluctant to make horses and riders progress through the grades as a partnership, the one thing that would make a real difference.
The buck for the scam, though, stops at the offices of the UAE federation – senior officials of which are the very same that signed the FEI document promising to behave better. Like I say, simply shameless.