UAE endurance appeal: Well, I guess we can rule out contrition

gallop-endurance400It was Kenny Rogers who sang the immortal words:
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em,
Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run”.

The conversation in the famous song, The Gambler, occurs on a “train bound for nowhere”, which sounds a lot like the current state of endurance.

News emerged today about the decision of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to challenge its provisional suspension from the FEI, imposed over welfare issues in endurance.

The appeal is a surprising move, and one that clearly disappoints the FEI.

FEI Secretary General Sabrina Zeender couched her views in diplomatic terms: “It is disappointing that an appeal has been lodged and that the UAE National Federation has chosen to go down the legal route rather than seeking ways to solve the issues and make a lasting commitment to improving the welfare of the horse at endurance events in which it is involved.”

In short, the UAE federation has decided to lawyer up and have a crack at the suspension through the FEI Tribunal. If it has no luck there, it could even go as far as the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

I would not for one second challenge the right of the UAE to appeal its suspension.

It has no doubt been prudent and sought legal advice, and it is entirely possible its lawyers have spotted some issues around the suspension that might warrant a challenge to the FEI Tribunal.

However, I suspect the UAE’s governing body might have been better off having a chat with Kenny Roger’s gambler instead.

The UAE federation had two relatively simple choices following its suspension. It could either demonstrate contrition and introduce reforms that satisfied the FEI, or it could lawyer up and have a crack at the suspension.

I don’t doubt that the UAE feels a lot is at stake. The suspension, if it holds up to the legal challenge, will be a permanent blot on its record. Questions must be asked, too, about existing plans to hold next year’s world endurance championships in Dubai.

Endurance as a sport has suffered damage to its reputation, in my view, as a result of the welfare-related concerns arising from the region. We are awaiting the findings of the investigation by the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit after it was revealed that results from a dozen or so races appeared to mirror those of earlier events. The findings will make very interesting reading, indeed.

So, what are we to make of the legal challenge?

The FEI, in announcing the suspension, gave the UAE a very clear path for a return to the fold: Sign a deal to take appropriate action to protect the welfare of horses, and ensure its compliance with FEI rules and regulations.

That is surely reasonable enough.

What worries me about the route taken by the UAE is that it might well address some legal issues in front of the FEI Tribunal – perhaps even successfully – but it goes no way toward addressing the wider issues that the international endurance community has with the sport in the region.

What if its appeal proves successful? The UAE is presumably reinstated and it finalises preparations for next year’s endurance championships. Does it think that countries will then flock to the region to compete?

The only way I can see that happening is by showing suitable contrition and making some meaningful changes to the sport within the region. I’m not sure that contrition looks entirely sincere if you exhaust all legal avenues first before showing it.

The dramas of endurance have gone on long enough. This latest move only prolongs the agony.

Followers of endurance don’t need to be reminded about the storm of controversy around the death of Splitters Creek Bundy as a result of two broken legs in a race in Abu Dhabi late in January, or the big questions that now swirl around a dozen races in the UAE after duplicated results were revealed by British equestrian writer Pippa Cuckson.

The FEI has played its biggest trump card with the suspension of the UAE. I think any sensible gambler would have folded and made the best out of the situation.

Kenny Rogers’ gambler was full of advice as the train chugged its way along the tracks.

Perhaps the UAE federation should have taken the advice given in the third verse:
“If you’re gonna play the game, boy,
You gotta learn to play it right.”

Only one thing is certain: Lawyers aren’t going to solve the issues in endurance.

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