A round-table meeting called by the FEI on endurance has mapped out a strategy for the discipline, but only time will tell whether it will ease tensions over worrying levels of drug infractions and injuries in the Middle East.
The world governing body for equestrian sport said Wednesday’s meeting at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, achieved unanimous support for a strategy mapped out for endurance by the FEI.
The meeting drew 22 delegates, including representatives from Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the European Equestrian Federation, the FEI Endurance Committee and FEI Headquarters.
Delegates agreed that, globally, all efforts would be made to reduce the numbers of horses testing positive for prohibited substances and suffering injuries.
The FEI said delegates agreed that the current rules, when fully implemented, already served the sport well.
However, the group recommended a plan for the FEI Bureau to consider, which included the support of all rule changes already proposed for consideration by national federations and approval at the FEI General Assembly, and a series of short-term proposals for immediate consideration by the FEI Bureau.
- A global endurance injuries project to be started as soon as possible;
- Reinforcement of the duties and obligations of FEI Officials;
- Increased levels of testing for prohibited substances across the discipline in all regions.
Delegates also called for the establishment of a strategic planning group to develop a plan for the future of endurance over the next decade. The FEI Bureau will be asked to approve the proposal, its mission, terms of reference and its constitution at its teleconference meeting on August 12. If approved by the bureau, the strategic planning group will present its “plan in outline” at the General Assembly.
“Today we have had a full and frank discussion about the challenges for endurance,” said Andrew Finding, the European Equestrian Federation board member who chaired the round-table session.
“The outcome of today’s meeting is that we have unanimous agreement over the tasks to be completed. I have been impressed by the courage, commitment and determination of all delegates to move forward positively throughout today’s meeting.”
FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos added: “We are very satisfied that this round table was able to come up with a unanimous conclusion, which shows the engagement and understanding of all involved in the sport of Endurance.”
The meeting was called as a result of growing concerns expressed by several national federations over drug infractions and injury rates in the Middle East.
One European national federation even raised the prospect of a breakaway group to distance the wider sport from the ongoing problems.
For the last decade, endurance has been the fastest-growing FEI discipline in terms of the number of FEI events and FEI riders and horses. Two years ago it surpassed dressage as the second-largest FEI discipline and there has even been talk of the FEI trying to gain Olympic status for endurance.
But the disciplinary decisions from the FEI over the last eight years provide a sorry litany of drug infractions in endurance, with a solid majority originating from the Middle East. It has been a blight on the growing status of the sport.
The Swiss Equestrian Federation led the charge on the issue over infractions in the Middle East, writing to FEI secretary general Ingmar de Vos late in March on the issue.
Its president, Charles Trolliet, and a board member, Peter Christen, laid out the federation’s concerns in a three-page letter, saying they were writing on behalf of worried riders, trainers and officials, as well as the public, media, and animal protection groups.
The pair said the Swiss federation could not accept the situation any longer, citing animal welfare concerns and the fairness of competitions.
The letter discussed drug concerns and “tremendous” fracture rates.
It noted that, from 2010 to 2012, 41 endurance horses were found to be positive for banned substances.
By comparison, the discipline of jumping, which had 31,064 registered horses – more than three times the number registered for endurance – recorded 19 infringements in the same period.
Notably, the letter said, 82.9 per cent of the cases in endurance originated from the FEI’s zone VII – the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan.
The letter asserted that such breaches indicated “a clear disrespect of certain riders, trainers and veterinarians concerning the welfare of horses in sport and the FEI code of conduct”.
The federation called on the FEI to take immediate measures to increase medication controls, especially in nations known to have a high frequency of positive test results.
It suggested a system be introduced allowing for the temporary exclusion of nations with a poor doping record.
“This critical situation … is of the highest potential explosive relevance,” the letter said, “putting at risk the image of all other FEI equestrian disciplines.”
The Swiss raised the prospect of an international movement of riders, trainers and officials being created who were no longer willing to accept the situation.
The French federation had written to the FEI about the welfare issue, in rather briefer terms, in October last year.
National sports director Pascal Dubois suggested if the issue was not addressed, it threatened to tarnish the reputation of endurance.
It is understood that Belgian officials had also complained.