The equestrian world is a big place, so you’re forgiven if you have never heard of Akaash Maharaj.
He is the secretary-general and chief executive of Equine Canada.
I have never met Maharaj, but I will confess one thing: I like the cut of his cloth.
Being head of Equine Canada is no doubt a challenging role, but he has just landed a fascinating hot potato.
Maharaj has been appointed to lead an FEI task force to report back on changing the governance structure of the FEI.
Now, the terms “task force” and “governance” are hardly likely to have you on the edge of your seat, but bear with me.
The fact a task force is exploring FEI governance is a good thing, as the world body has for years been viewed as having a very unwieldy structure.
A bid to streamline it came unstuck a couple of years ago when national federations met in Copenhagen. The end-game before national federations ultimately voted wasn’t handled very well and it was rejected.
We are all aware of how “task forces” and “inquiries” can sometimes be handled.
Armed with a little knowledge about the appointees, you can often judge how the findings are likely to play out.
There are the “white washes’, where appointees are clearly going to come down strongly with one point of view. And then there are those where there is a real will for change, and the participants clearly reflect that.
The evidence would suggest that Maharaj is very definitely the man for this job, and the FEI deserves much credit for appointing him.
Last November, the FEI General Assembly met in Chinese Taipei.
Sources told Horsetalk that one of the great disappointments at the international gathering was the day in which the various regional groups of nations had an opportunity to discuss with the FEI Bureau their concerns and aspirations.
One might think such an occasion was an opportunity to pull up a few seats, sit across a table, and get down to business. How can we help? What are your concerns?
Maharaj blogged on the day, and reported thus:
“The Bureau sits at the far end of a cavernous and largely empty conference hall, lined up along one side of a long conference table, on a dais physically elevated above the rest of this room.
“From this perch, they invite the regional groups to come forward in turn and sit before them at a second smaller table placed on lower ground.
“As a result, throughout the proceedings, the Bureau literally looks down on the regional groups, while the group representatives must look upwards under their gaze.”
He noted: “Although the exercise is ostensibly meant to offer us an opportunity to present our collective views to the Bureau, it appears to be organised primarily to strike awe into our hearts.”
Maharaj delivered what was effectively a dressing down to the Bureau over its handling of key issues, including the anti-inflammatory drugs debacle that was prominent at the time.
“As one might imagine from its magisterial settings, the Bureau is unaccustomed to being called to account by FEI member countries, and it is certainly unprepared to be spoken with in direct and candid terms,” he said.
“Nevertheless, our group believes strongly that for the good of our sport, we have a duty to tell the Bureau what it needs to know and not just what it would like to hear. To do otherwise would be to fail in our duty to them, to the FEI, and to the global equestrian community.”
Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Jim Ellis was present for Maharaj’s address and observed in his blog that his Canadian counterpart had “vented some spleen” over the organisation’s handling of the NSAIDs/progressive list controversy.
Ellis, too, had considered the regional meetings as “really more of an audience”.
Perhaps little thought went into the seating arrangements for the series of meetings, but delegates from member-nations did, indeed, have to gaze up at the 20 or so members of the bureau, with FEI staff fanning out on either side of the bureau panel.
The “FEI family”, it seems, was having a bad day.
The fact that Maharaj is leading the task force, which will involve consulting with national federations, augers well.
He was unimpressed and said so. The fact he was addressing the FEI Bureau made no difference to Maharaj.
That is precisely the kind of mettle needed to help streamline FEI governance and get the job done.
Interestingly, before joining Equine Canada, he was chief executive of Concordis, a foundation involved in international peace-building and armed-conflict resolution.
He was decorated in Canada’s national honours in recognition of his work on the Arab-Israeli peace process.
He contributes widely in the print and broadcast media to political and diplomatic debates, and was named by Maclean’s, the country’s largest news magazine, as one of Canada’s 50 most well known and respected personalities.
He earned his MA from Oxford University and was the first overseas student elected as president of the student government in the university’s 900-year history.
He is a volunteer who has taught adult literacy and is particularly involved with UNICEF’s efforts on childhood and maternal health and hunger.
He is also an accomplished equestrian. He rode with the Canadian military’s mounted cavalry and captained Canada’s national equestrian combat team.
In 2008, he led the team to three gold medals and a bronze at the International Championships in the FEI regional discipline of tent pegging.
He is a Class A member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and a member of its ethics and governance committee.
What’s he up to when Princess Haya finishes her second term as president?