The world’s top court for sporting disputes has over-ruled South Africa’s eventing selection for the London Olympics.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, has set aside the selection of Paul Hart, meaning South Africa must hastily revisit the selection question as the Games approach, leaving the way clear for Alexander Peternell.
A panel ruled in favour of the appeal filed by Peternell against decisions taken by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) and the South African Equestrian Federation (SAEF) over the sole eventing position available to South Africa at the Games.
The panel said there were two possible selections for the position – Peternell and Hart. Hart was chosen by SASCOC.
On July 11, Peternell filed his appeal against the decisions taken by both South African bodies to not select him.
The decisions were dealt with together on a fast-track basis as a single appeal.
The panel ruled that Peternell fulfilled the three different sets of selection criteria applicable and accordingly, that he should have been nominated by SAEF for selection. It said the decision to overturn Hart’s selection was unfortunate, but a direct consequence of the failure of the South African bodies to properly apply the selection and nomination procedures.
The panel set aside the decision of the South African bodies and said that Peternell shall be eligible for selection to compete on behalf of South Africa in eventing in lieu of Hart.
The panel noted in its decision that Peternell lives in England and has done so since 2001. He believed that it was necessary if he was to be able to access top level events and the training needed to become a world-class event rider.
He told the panel that many of the world’s top event riders of all nationalities are based in the UK. He said that during his regular visits to South Africa he continues to contribute by teaching training clinics to South African riders and through his support for equestrian charities.
In February, Peternell was told he had been shortlisted for the individual eventing slot. On March 1, the FEI rider rankings were published.
Peternell was ranked number 164, with 76 points, and Hart was ranked number 442, with 5 points.
Peternell argued before the panel that the issue came down to eligibility and that, had the South African bodies applied the criteria correctly, he would have been selected.
The South African bodies argued he had not fulfilled the general criteria as, when he competed in the elimination competitions pertaining to the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, he was not officially representing South Africa.
In order officially to represent South Africa it is necessary to receive official sanction from SASCOC prior to competing. Peternell had not sought and did not receive this official sanction from SASCOC.
Peternell, they said, was not the only South African rider to appear in the FEI Olympic Rider Classification list. He was actually the third South African on the list. However, as he had no available qualified horse as at 30 April 2012 he, like the first two riders on the list, failed to meet the specific criteria, which, the respondents maintained must apply to both riders and horses.
Hart submitted that Peternell had not qualified his second horse, Asih, by the required date and was therefore ineligible for selection.
The panel ruled that Peternell had met the SAEF and SASCOC eligibility criteria for selection for the South African eventing position.
“He is entitled to be nominated and selected accordingly.”
Regrettably, this meant Peternell would replace Hart, the panel said. “This is a necessary but unfortunate consequence of the failure [of the South African bodies] to properly apply the selection and nomination procedures.”
The panel said it would surely be disappointing for Hart, but his continued participation as South Africa’s competitor in eventing would not only have been tainted by that injustice but, more importantly, would have been both legally wrong and contrary to the spirit of sport.
Sowetan Live reported SASCOC chief executive Tubby Ruddy as saying: “SASCOC followed the procedure, taking the nomination of Hart from the South African Equestrian Council.
“However, the CAS [court] ruling suggested that it is wrong and we accept that Peternell is due a place in Team SA.
“We will send the CAS ruling to the [SA equestrian federation], await their submission and then they will forward their recommendation on the matter to the Sascoc board.”
Peternell said his appeal was based on “clear and objective” selection criteria – the highest FEI ranked rider who qualified would be offered the place.
“I am the highest ranked qualified rider at 164 with 76 points. Paul Hart was selected in my place, ranked 442 with 5 points. I did not understand why I had not been chosen. After a lengthy internal appeal process, I made the difficult decision to take my case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. I felt appealing was the right thing to do, given there was evidence the correct process had not been followed for the selection and also given the clear criteria under which I should have been the selected rider,” Peternell said.
“My appeal was upheld and the court set aside the selection decision to choose Paul Hart. In court, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) admitted I had been misled as to the process, sometimes delibrately so. The effect of the decision is that SASCOC must now decide whether to select me. The court held that I am the only rider SASCOC can select, as I am the only one who fits the criteria. I am desperately hoping they will confirm a selection decison very soon.
“I have every sympathy for the position of Paul Hart and his connections. I know only too well the heartache of being told you are not going to the Olympics when you had fully expected to be there. This appeal was never about the riders involved, but about ensuring the correct processes are followed and that no one has to go through the devastation I have been through,” Peternell said.
“From being encouraged over a long period by the authories involved to believe I would be going as the highest ranked rider, to being told completely out of the blue and with no reasons, that this was not the case. It is the actions of the authorities involved in the decision making process that have left both Paul and myself in this terrible position so late in the day, and my heart really does go out to him and all his supporters. But as hard as it may be on others, I must look to protect my own position in this, and that of my fully deserving horse and extremely supportive owners and team.
“We are all hoping that SASCOC will now move to confirm the decision that will enable me to compete otherwise, heaven forbid, there will be no South African eventer at the Olympics.”