Endurance officials in Britain have suspended negotiations with the Dubai-based Meydan Corporation over a major sponsorship deal for the sport.
The decision was made by the board of Endurance Great Britain following fresh controversies around horse welfare within the sport in the Middle East, centred on the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The latest controversy blew up with the widespread circulation within social media of an image showing an Australian-bred endurance horse, Splitters Creek Bundy, stricken with two broken forelegs during the Al Reef Cup in Abu Dhabi, which, like Dubai, is one of emirates.
The race was run under the national rules of the UAE Equestrian Federation, which limits the FEI’s jurisdiction in the matter.
Endurance in the region has been under scrutiny for several years over doping infractions, worrying fracture rates and what some view as a cavalier interpretation of the rules by some officials. Tighter endurance rules were introduced last year by the FEI, but a significant number of races are not run under the international jurisdiction.
The death of Splitters Creek Bundy resulted in a number of national federations outlining their concerns in letters to the FEI. Some also stated their views publicly, urging their riders not to compete in the region in the meantime, and raising the possibility that they might not send competitors to the world endurance championship to be held in Dubai next year.
Then, on Friday, the FEI announced that two international endurance events set to be held in the UAE this month have been removed from the FEI calendar. The world governing body called the move an emergency measure to protect horse welfare and preserve the integrity of its rules and regulations at FEI events.
Now, Endurance Great Britain has backed off from the sponsorship deal, with caused a split in the sport. A group of members were vocal in their opposition, arguing that the sport should not accept the money given the controversies that have unfolded in the Middle East. Some even refused to renew their memberships.
Meydan Corporation is the state-owned developer of the Dubai racing facility.
Endurance GB chairman John Hudson said the decision by the board took into account the recent announcement by the FEI and followed talks with the British Equestrian Federation.
Hudson said the board decided that sponsorship negotiations with Meydan would be suspended until further notice.
“This has been an extremely difficult decision but we believe, in view of the current national and international sensitivities and pressures surrounding the sport of endurance, it would not now be in Endurance GB’s interests to enter into a sponsorship agreement at this time.”
The decision meant that Endurance GB would be unable to proceed with the three rides scheduled for Euston Park in 2015, he said.
“I hope you will understand and respect our decision, which has not been taken lightly,” he said in a statement.
“We will be looking at ways to try and deliver at least some of our exciting plans to improve the sport of endurance for all members, although without sponsorship this will be a significant challenge.
“However, this does not affect our normal activities which will continue to offer a wide range of local, national and international rides at all levels throughout England and Wales.”