Changes are under way to the FEI database as the fallout from the so-called phantom endurance races in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues.
The UAE national federation was provisionally suspended last March following an investigation by the FEI into what it called major horse welfare issues and non-compliance with the rules in endurance.
Around the same time, evidence emerged of UAE endurance races for which blocks of results in the FEI database appeared to mirror those of earlier races. This issue was unrelated to the suspension.
The FEI asked the Endurance Community Integrity Unit (ECIU) to investigate, with the world governing body indicating that the UAE would not be re-admitted to the fold until all issues, including the circumstances around the mirrored race results, were resolved.
British equestrian journalist Pippa Cuckson, aided by experienced endurance riders, broke the story. They identified about 12 UAE races with anomalous results. It is understood the ECIU identified a handful more during its investigations, with the final tally understood to be 15.
Now, changes can be seen in the FEI database as a consequence, extending beyond the annulment of results in the races in question. The effects have flowed on to subsequent races because some of the horses listed in the phantom races were not in fact qualified for later races in which they competed.
Such horses are now listed as disqualified, with the explanation: “Ineligible – qualifying result removed”.
An FEI spokesperson characterised it as an ongoing process.
The ECIU’s report was completed and was being reviewed by the FEI in July. A file is to be submitted to the FEI Tribunal for disciplinary action. It is anticipated that details of the phantom races will emerge in the written decisions released by the tribunal, although that is likely to be months away.
The Emirates national body is said to have cooperated fully with ECIU investigators.
Meanwhile, the UAE had its suspension lifted late in July after an agreement was reached with the world governing body.
A legally binding agreement between the two parties was reached, allowing the lifting of the suspension.
The agreement will remain in force for three years. The FEI can reimpose the suspension for non-compliance with the terms of the deal. It also reserves the right to withdraw the 2016 FEI World Endurance Championships, which are due to be held in Dubai in mid-December next year, should the UAE not honour the agreement.
The Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) has guaranteed that horse welfare will be fully respected and that FEI rules will be stringently enforced at all endurance events, both national and international.
The agreement was signed by FEI President Ingmar De Vos and Secretary General Sabrina Zeender, and by EEF President Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Secretary General Taleb Dhaher Al Mheiri, and Mohammad Al Kamali, Secretary General of the UAE National Olympic Committee.
The Emirates body, in its push to have the suspension lifted, had proposed a list of actions to address the issues. These were integrated into a draft agreement that the EEF sent to the FEI in early June.
The FEI Bureau welcomed the proposals, but told the EEF that more areas needed to be covered before it could be signed and the provisional suspension lifted.
The two parties spent several weeks reviewing and revising the terms of the agreement.
Under the key terms of the agreement, the EEF must ensure that:
- Protocols are put in place to avoid equine fatalities;
- Applicable rest periods are respected;
- Horses on rest periods are blocked from entry in national events (the FEI system already blocks entries in international events);
- Use of prohibited fluid administration and any substances prohibited under the FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMRs) in and around the Field of Play and at the Vet Gate is prevented;
- Prohibited substitution of horses is prevented;
- Prohibited vehicles on the field of play are prevented;
- Any individual or horse suspended by the FEI is automatically blocked by the EEF IT system from competing at national events;
- The role and authority of officials in carrying out their duties is respected at all times;
- Training and education of athletes, trainers, support personnel, national federation staff members and stable veterinarians will be conducted before the start of the 2015-16 endurance season in October;
- FEI rules on post mortems are adhered to and, where possible, the same procedure is applied in the event of fatalities at national competitions;
- A national independent governance adviser, approved by the FEI, is appointed;
- Conflicts of interest are avoided;
- Distribution of prize money is in accordance with the FEI approved schedule;
- Rules for national endurance events in the UAE are fully compliant with the FEI Rules and Regulations.
The Emirates federation has undertaken to provide monthly written reports during the 2015-16 season on steps taken to ensure ongoing compliance with FEI’s rules and regulations, and has agreed to abide by any further recommendations put forward by the FEI.
Following completion of the 2015-16 season, the national federation will provide reports whenever requested by the FEI.
Additionally, the EEF will support a research project to evaluate the causes of injuries linked to the design of desert endurance courses. Endurance trainers will be obliged to cooperate with this research project.
The agreement also details the new legislation that has been introduced in the UAE prohibiting the trade or use of banned substances in horse racing and equestrian sports in the country and the sanctions that will be imposed for breaches.