I don’t believe I have a problem with alcohol, but I clearly have trouble identifying drinking establishments.
Last July, I wrote a blog after the FEI lifted its temporary suspension imposed on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over welfare concerns in endurance.
The FEI and Emirates Equestrian Federation had struck a deal in which the latter promised to strictly abide by the rules of endurance and agree to monitoring.
I began thus: “The barman has called for final drinks at the Last Chance Saloon, where the FEI and the United Arab Emirates have been holed up for four months trying to broker a deal over endurance.”
I must have misread the shingle hanging over the swinging doors of this fine establishment. It is now clear that they must have been supping in the “Second-to-Last-Chance Saloon”.
Yes, another deal is done – 12 changes have been agreed to see out the rest of the UAE endurance season, which ends in early April.
Now, I am not going to pretend this is easy. Clearly, the UAE wants to stay within the FEI fold, and I firmly believe that more can be achieved by keeping the country within the FEI than sending it off into the global equestrian desert after an admonishment.
However, there are limits, and I sincerely hope the FEI has made this very clear.
In any case, I suspect the UAE will ultimately pay a price for the recent endurance sins which caused such a storm in social media.
Should the world endurance championships proceed in Dubai in December, I suspect there will be some high-profile nations missing. I guess the FEI could still move it elsewhere, but the world governing body doesn’t seem terribly keen on this kind of corporal punishment.
There had been hopes that the Emirates Equestrian Federation might embrace the style of endurance embraced at Bouthieb, in Abu Dhabi, where speeds are successfully kept in check and the majority of prize-money is allocated to the best-conditioned horses.
The 12 measures agreed in the last few hours are a step in that direction, with reduced heart-rate presentation times, although these apply only to the final loop of two- and three-star CEI (international) and CEN (national) races.
I suspect many will take the view that the measures do not go far enough.
On Saturday, the CEI 3* 160km HH The President of UAE Endurance Cup was staged – the first event held following the agreement of new terms. Ten four-wheel-drives were up for grabs. From what I can gather, a final presentation heart rate of 60bpm was applied for the final loop.
The FEI said in a statement that the event, held at the Emirates International Endurance Village, was well organised, with the winning combination posting an average speed of 26.3kmh. It said all horses crossed the line in good health.
Let’s compare that to the results of the H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Endurance Cup CEI 3*, raced over 160km on January 9 at a different venue – Dubai International Endurance City. The winning combination had an average speed around the entire course of 24.44kmh.
The nature of the different courses may well have been a major contributor to these different average speeds, but it doesn’t yet look as if we have a convincing argument that the measures will keep speeds down, which is one of the major welfare concerns. However, I don’t doubt that the reduced presentation heart-rate in the final loop will ultimately take the edge off final-loop speeds.
From what I can gather, the 12 measures announced appear targeted as seeing out the current endurance season. Will we see more talks and more changes before the next season begins later this year?
So, I’m gun-shy now. Have the FEI and Emirates Equestrian Federation stepped out of the Last Chance Saloon this time?
How can we be sure? Nothing is ever quite what it seems on Planet FEI.
Let me remind you of what the secretary general of the Emirates Equestrian Federation, Taleb Dhaher Al Mheiri – who played a part in negotiating the latest set of agreed changes with the FEI – said last July, after the UAE had its FEI suspension lifted: “As the governing body of equestrian sports in the UAE we take our responsibility seriously. It is our goal to pursue excellence while promoting the growth of the sport and safeguarding the welfare of equine and human athletes.”
So, here we go again. Another day, another deal.
Hit me with another whisky.