Well, if there was ever any doubt about the extent of the UAE’s reprehensible behaviour in Endurance racing (and there wasn’t as far as I’m concerned), the FEI’s press release of last week certainly wipes it out. Nothing like a list of what someone is not allowed to do to confirm what that person or group has been up to. I mean, when someone is let out of jail on probation, the terms of the probation aren’t likely to list criminal activities of the sort that the person hasn’t committed. If you stole a car, the probation isn’t going to mention domestic violence, is it?
Here is the list of ‘thou shalt not’ activities contained in a new agreement signed by the UAE and FEI:
- Protocols are put in place to avoid equine fatalities;
- Applicable rest periods are respected;
- Horses on rest periods are blocked from entry in national events (the FEI system already blocks entries in international events);
- Use of prohibited fluid administration and any substances prohibited under the FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMRs) in and around the Field of Play and at the Vet Gate is prevented;
- Prohibited substitution of horses is prevented;
- Prohibited vehicles on the Field of Play are prevented;
- Any individual or horse suspended by the FEI is automatically blocked by the EEF IT system from competing at national events;
- The role and authority of officials in carrying out their duties is respected at all times;
- Training and education of Athletes, Trainers, Support Personnel, National Federation Staff Members and Stable Veterinarians is conducted prior to the start of the 2015/2016 Endurance season in October;
- FEI rules on post mortems are adhered to and, where possible, the same procedure is applied in the event of fatalities at national competitions;
- A national Independent Governance Advisor, approved by the FEI is appointed;
- Conflicts of interest are avoided;
- Distribution of prize money is in accordance with the FEI approved schedule;
- Rules for National Endurance events in the UAE are fully compliant with the FEI Rules and Regulations.
Oh sure, I should be applauding this firm action taken by the FEI to yank the UAE by its soiled collar into compliance. But what really struck me when I read the announcement was how truly heinously the UAE had been acting in total disregard of the rules. The problem wasn’t new, and the cases weren’t isolated. It was systemic and prolonged. The question that never seems to get asked, or at least not loudly and pressingly enough, is why it was allowed to go on for so long. And what kind of picture does it paint that the governing body has to tell a member that it isn’t allowed to do things that most participants in equestrian sport simply don’t need to be told? Try not to kill horses? No horse swapping? No intimidation or threats toward officials? Sorry, but I’m not seeing much of a rosy tint yet. I have a couple more bones to pick too. If the FEI is attempting to get the UAE to clean up its act, the list ought to include ‘no staging of fake events’ and ‘no rider swapping’.
My eagle eye for irony can’t get past the third to last item on the list about avoiding Conflicts of interest. That’s rich. At the bottom of the release are listed the contact emails for spokespersons for the FEI and for the EEF (the UAE’s national equestrian federation). The UAE contact is someone called Nicky Stevens, whose email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. It isn’t rocket science to look up ‘Falcon and Associates’. Please don’t tell me you’re surprised to learn that ‘Falcon and Associates’ is the spawn of a certain Sheikh. On the company’s ‘about us’ page is the following statement:
“In accordance with the law issued in 2009 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, we drive tangible initiatives and strategic communications to support and enhance Dubai’s position on the world stage.”
No conflict of interest there with Nicky’s employer, not at all. Nope. No siree. Perish the thought.
Continuing through the press release, my gag reflex was stimulated by this line, spoken by FEI Sec Gen Sabrina Zeender: ““They are absolutely committed to making this work so that they can return to playing an active and leading role in Endurance once again”. Did she really have to take it that far and say ‘leading’? If by ‘leading’ she means being the leading breaker of rules and perpetrator of horse abuse, I say fine. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the context in which the word was used.
More soft palate tickling was experienced when I read the penultimate sentence of the announcement: “These sanctions would include, but are not limited to, the immediate reinstatement of the suspension and withdrawal of the allocation of the 2016 FEI World Endurance Championships, which are due to be held in Dubai in mid-December next year.” What??? You mean to say that the FEI didn’t revoke the hosting agreement when it kicked out the UAE? Could the FEI have its head buried so far into the nether regions of its anatomy that no one at Mission Control can see how outrageous it is that the World Endurance Championships haven’t already been taken away and granted to, oh I don’t know, any of the other 132 FEI members that have less tarnished records when it comes to Endurance?
Perhaps I can help the penny to drop for the FEI. Here is a true statement that strips away all the flowery language and lays bare the ugly facts: The FEI granted the 2016 World Endurance Championships to the country that has the worst record of breaking the FEI rules in that (indeed, any) discipline, during the 2014 FEI General Assembly, a couple of months before the FEI suspended the UAE’s membership. The FEI did not revoke the hosting rights of the World Endurance Championships, even as it denied membership to the host country. Anybody? Sound of coin hitting tile?