At the beginning of December, Endurance Great Britain (EGB) approached members with proposed sponsorship package from Meydan, a company owned by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The package proposed providing EGB with a large but undisclosed sum of money to support EGB while also providing new ride opportunities in Great Britain. However, given the terrible troubles facing Endurance as a result of serious rule infractions committed by riders in Group 7, including members of the Maktoum family, many EGM members have voiced serious concerns about accepting sponsorship proposal. Herewith is an open letter written to the board of EGB:
Open Letter To: John Hudson and EGB Board
23rd December 2014
Sponsorship Arrangement with Meydan
In your e-mail to all Endurance GB (EGB) members on the 5th December 2014 you state in the penultimate paragraph, final sentence:
“I must point out that the only accurate and impartial source of information on this subject is the EGB website and direct communication from the Board”.
On the 19th December 2014, on behalf of the EGB Board, you communicated with EGB members a set of documents and covering e-mail about the ballot on the offer of sponsorship from Meydan. In your covering e-mail (letter) you highlight the key points in case members find the information provided too much to digest “at this busy time of year”. By taking that responsibility to summarise key points and simplify the information within the supporting documents it is even more critical that the commentary should be impeccably <strong>“accurate and impartial”.</strong>
However, having read <strong>all</strong> the documents carefully we are disappointed and deeply concerned to discover that they contain errors, misleading bias and an unnecessary level of vagueness.
The most glaring error is contained within the covering e-mail (letter):
Bullet point 3 – “Meydan’s business interests are as a developer and manager of residential, commercial and leisure real estate in Dubai, including a flat racing track. Its only connection to the sport of endurance is an event sponsor”.
This is disingenuous, to say the least, as it is well documented and known that Meydan and the Dubai Equestrian Club are inextricably linked through their owner, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. And, indeed it is this very alliance that caused the FEI concern about this year’s WEG with regard to Meydan sponsorship. On the 30th March 2014 at a meeting with senior FEI officials, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum pointed out that Meydan is a<strong> regulator in Dubai of equestrian sports</strong> and that it would be prudent to withdraw the Meydan sponsorship of WEG. Additionally, in April 2014 the FEI rejected the offer of Meydan funding for the Endurance Task Force stating that it was preferable that Meydan was not involved in the process. Therefore, the FEI now publicly recognizes the potential conflict of interest with Meydan and the Dubai Equestrian Club in sponsorship arrangements.
Furthermore, this is a key point at the heart of discontent and increasing anger within a significant element of the EGB membership. We refer here to Appendix One – Summary of Endurance GB Membership Survey 2014; 318 Responses; Q2 Disadvantages of Meydan Deal – 90% saw some disadvantages.Also, the many comments posted in recent days on the EGB Forum have highlighted deep concerns and worry about the damage and risk that this sponsorship will cause to EGB’s, up to now, respected and clean reputation, and the future reputation of endurance in GB.
In the final bullet point of your cover, you refer to a requirement to “maintain commercial confidence regarding the total value of the sponsorship package until after a contract has been signed”. Therefore, one might conclude that once the contract is signed the value of the contract will be made public, allowing members to fully understand the financial benefits that have been negotiated, which up to now have been a complete mystery. That said, in normal business practice, although commercial in-confidence may be a necessary requirement throughout negotiations, it is usually possible to indicate how spend will be allocated against specific activities in broad value or percentage terms, rather than specified amounts. The broad value terms, which, thus far, you have described as “very significant and unprecedented for EGB”, might be relatively quantified against known EGB financials, such as annual turnover, or total rides profit, etc..
In the document Meydan Package Benefits Matrix there are definitive statements made about funding allocation and there are aspirational statements made about funding, depending on which columns are referenced. The FEI column of Benefits is a particular example of where funding streams appear to have been allocated. However, in the Pleasure Rides and Graded Endurance Rides columns, the wording is much less committed and indeed confused and inaccurate; assuming the named colour-coding of the columns runs throughout the document, which they seem to do according to the legend at the foot of each page of the document. As a point of clarity and example, is the intention, on page 2 Training and Development, to make coaching available to Pleasure Riders and for Pleasure Riders “to access support and funding to get qualified under accredited scheme”? If this is to be the case it is a very ambitious proposal and raises many questions on its deliverance.
There is a clear discontinuity between the Matrix document and the document entitled Summary of the Proposed Sponsorship Package with Meydan, which introduces inaccuracies, confusion and potential for misunderstanding.
For now, without a clearer allocation of spend this Benefits Matrix document is at best a wish list of perceived benefits with a focus primarily on FEI, Young Riders, IT software and some Training and Development activities. It does not provide a balanced, time-bound and definitive plan of how these additional resources will be managed and allocated in the given contract period.
A request was made from the membership for a detailed and comprehensive Risk Assessment to be drawn up in line with industry best practice. Appendix Two, Key Risk Areas and Containments is qualified by the statement that:
“The EGB Board is undertaking a detailed risk assessment and management process. This document (sic Appendix Two) summarises the key areas of risk identified with notes on mitigation and containment or other comments.”
At best this resembles the initial stages of preparing a Risk Assessment similar to a “brain storming session” often used to identify the issues that will need further development. It is in a very premature state and a long way from meeting the standards of a Risk Assessment required for a contractual Agreement, which has been publicly acknowledged by the EGB Board to be “not without risk”. This position would be acceptable if the Board was at the beginning stages of the negotiation process; close to the time when the original sponsorship concept was muted. However, by now, some eight months since this proposed sponsorship saw the light of day in March 2014, the Risk Assessment document should be highly developed already and near its final sign-off, ready to be updated and finalised as negotiations come to a close. As it stands this document is not fit-for-purpose and contains many omissions and errors of commission.
Therefore, in summary, the EGB Board took upon itself to be the provider of the only accurate and impartial source of information on this Sponsorship Agreement with Meydan. Instead it has provided a partial source of information in both senses of the word.
The Board has presented a case for the defence of this sponsorship proposal through its formal communication with the membership on the 5th and 19th December 2014 for the purposes of the ballot. In so doing it has emphasised its recommendation that members do vote, which is impartial advice, but also that they vote YES, and that is partial advice. Up to the change of position by the Board on permitting the membership a vote, the Board had chosen not to formally consult with the membership. However, the results from the membership survey held between the 23rd November and 7th December 2014, along with a membership mandate to request an Extraordinary General Meeting at this time, led the Board to, reluctantly, change its position and agree to a membership ballot. Once that ballot was called, the Board entered into a full consultation of members, and, as a result of the ballot, its impartiality in that process changed immediately from one of “impartial and accurate” information provider, to one of blatant campaigner for a YES vote.
Is it, perhaps, to avoid further embarrassing public announcements, as released in the overseas press, early October 2014, the Board has chosen to introduce new voting criteria? These include:
• Widening the membership base to take account of all types of members such as Junior Members and Associated Members, to date excluded from voting rights on other business matters, e.g. Board Director voting, and excluded from access to member views posted on the Forum.
• A minimum qualifying turnout of 40%, which is higher than the 39.4% 2014 Board Director voting turnout, and which excluded these additional, now included, membership categories. It was stated at the AGM that 39.4% turnout is the highest ever recorded in any EGB ballot.
It is hoped that the Board will reflect on the way it has approached and managed this proposed Sponsorship Arrangement with Meydan and identify areas for improvement, particularly in relation to communication with its membership. It would be fair to say that this particular initiative has not been the finest hour for the management of endurance in GB, and we should all be mindful of the following from EGB’s Mission Statement:
“To enable us to carry out this mission we will work closely with other equestrian sporting bodies, namely the BEF and FEI, along with the veterinary and equitation professions, but most importantly our members.”
Martin Moore and Linda Kidd