FEI president Princess Haya has moved to assure national federations that the world governing body is working hard to sort out the problems within the sport of endurance.
Haya was commenting following a report in The Telegraph in Britain in which Belgian official Pierre Arnould voiced his fears for the future of endurance unless the FEI reined in what he viewed as the excesses of a clutch of Middle Eastern countries.
“Everything would be idyllic but for three federations who cast shame on the sport,” said Arnould, in reference to a series of doping infractions in recent years arising from horses raced in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain. Concerns have also been aired over unacceptably high fracture rates.
“The scandals have continued unabated, the press is going wild, horses die, fractures are increasing – and next week the winter season begins in the Middle East,” Arnould said.
Arnould voiced his dissatisfaction with the FEI’s response to date, saying: “While the FEI endurance committee, federations, breeders and riders have alerted the FEI board for years to these unacceptable practices, the FEI’s only response is to create a strategic group with the task of studying the evolution of endurance for the next 10 years. We need practical, impartial law enforcement measures that will cease these scandals immediately and permanently.”
Haya, in her statement to national federations, accused Arnould, who is a member of the FEI’s Endurance Committee, of making unsubstantiated allegations, describing them as truly damaging to the sport.
Haya stressed to national federations that her steps taken personally over endurance had been quite limited.
“Immediately after my election as FEI president in 2006, I officially acknowledged a potential conflict of interest and delegated authority to the vice-presidents and executive board to deal with any issues related to endurance that might involve a possible conflict.
“I have maintained that approach throughout my entire time in office. All of the people who are authorised to handle issues related to endurance have my full confidence. I know that they will do what they think is right, without regard to my views.”
Haya said several rule changes proposed at the 2012 Sports Forum were ultimately approved by the FEI General Assembly that year. All were designed to safeguard the welfare of endurance horses at FEI events, while nurturing the expansion of the sport its specific needs, she said.
The first vice-president, secretary general, and the veterinary and endurance directors had made several visits to the United Arab Emirates to discuss the way forward, she said.
Proposed rules changes for 2014 were discussed last June during a two-day Endurance Committee meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.
They include restricting the number of grooms within the vet gate, increasing the rest period for horses, reinforcing the independence of foreign officials, and refining the qualifying requirements for treatment veterinarians. The committee also recommended the establishment of an endurance injuries study.
Haya said she responded to concerns expressed earlier this year by several national federations by calling an endurance round table meeting, giving rise to the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (ESPG), tasked to identify the problems within the discipline and to come up with solid structural solutions.
The planning group was empowered to address any issue that it believed warranted a closer look and was free to recommend any rule change or other action, Haya said.
Planning group chairman Andrew Finding will head a European Equestrian Federation delegation that will fly to the United Arab Emirates for next week’s endurance seminar in Abu Dhabi, she added.
The planning group will present its intermediate findings at the special endurance session at the General Assembly in Montreux on November 6.
“We want this session to be fully interactive so that the ESPG can listen to your comments and, where appropriate, integrate that feedback into its recommendations.”
Haya continued: “I want to make it very clear to you that the FEI and the relevant bodies of the FEI have been taking their responsibility very seriously. They are addressing the problems that the discipline of endurance is facing in the proper way.
“It is frustrating not to be able to react as quickly as individuals and the media can, but as a democratic organisation and a governing body, we need to respect democratic processes and take the time to consider all relevant elements.
“We cannot always move as swiftly as we would like to, but I give you my guarantee that I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the FEI finds the structured solutions that are needed.”
She said FEI officials and staff were working hard to find solutions. “I call upon you all to help your FEI in this difficult task.”