The Emirates Equestrian Federation will undoubtedly be distressed that its plans to host the World Endurance Championships in Dubai this December have been scuppered by the FEI Bureau.
The bureau, meeting in Switzerland this week, decided that the United Arabs Emirates (UAE) still had welfare concerns in endurance that needed to be resolved before it could host the event.
Or, to frame it in the bureau’s own words: “The FEI Bureau is of the opinion that the UAE national federation is not currently in a position to guarantee that horse welfare would be fully protected at an FEI World Endurance Championship in the UAE this year.”
Stripping a world championships from a nation in such circumstances is a pretty big deal, and I don’t doubt that the Emirates Equestrian Federation will be smarting from the news for some time.
The event had been under a cloud over welfare concerns in the sport in the UAE for a while, and in recent weeks several strong endurance nations signalled that they were unlikely to go if was held in the country.
One might be forgiven for thinking that stripping a world championship was just routine business for the all-powerful bureau, given that it was the fourth item on its publicly released wrap of the two-day chin-wag.
The bureau gave us 297 words on the subject, roughly a quarter of which dealt with the nuts and bolts of finding a new host and the qualification ramifications arising from that.
Anyone with even a passing interest in endurance is well aware of the long list of problems in the discipline in the UAE, and the convoluted tap-dancing that has gone on to find solutions. These days it feels as if the problems date back to the Jurassic period, when dinosaurs roamed the lush jungles around the Arabian Gulf.
There is no point in chewing through more screen pixels to recount these tribulations, but the end result is that we still have welfare worries, horses have continued to suffer catastrophic injuries, and we still have evidence of quite startling loop times in the UAE, despite tighter heart-rate measures agreed to by the UAE in March that were intended to spill speed.
It doesn’t look like much progress.
So, in examing the 297-word summary, the bureau acknowledged the efforts made by the Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) since its reinstatement to the world governing body in July 2015 (which we should also remember was originally imposed over welfare concerns and non-compliance with FEI rules and regulations).
So, if we acknowledge that the EEF has made meaningful efforts in this area, it does rather beg the question: If the endurance measures haven’t proved effective to date, whose fault is it?
But, while the bureau acknowledges the EEF’s efforts, it says the national body is not currently in a position to guarantee that horse welfare would be fully protected at an FEI World Endurance Championship in the UAE this year.
Given the raft of international endurance officials that would be all over a world championships, it is an interesting take on the situation.
The fact the world championships were stripped from the UAE would surprise no one, but this was not quite the explanation I expected.
The FEI’s release then traversed a few details about finding a new venue and qualification issues, before turning back to the UAE.
We are told: “There was also unanimous agreement among the bureau members that rule breaches are absolutely unacceptable and that the FEI must work even more closely with the UAE national federation to guarantee the national federation’s full implementation of FEI Rules and Regulations, as well as on the July 2015 agreement which will guarantee the welfare of the horse in national and international events.”
It continued: “Additionally, and until further notice, the FEI will not sanction any events organised by the Dubai International Equestrian Centre.” It has since clarified it meant the Dubai Equestrian Club.
I’m not going to second-guess which rule breaches it is referring to, but the fact the Dubai Equestrian Club has fallen out of favour might provide some clue.
Getting to the heart rate of the matter
Horsetalk received an email on March 4 pointing it to an “exclusive story” about what was behind the cancellation of the March 19 CEI 3* 140km race in Dubai. You will recall that this was replaced with a 120km CEN (national) event.
The account appears on Equestrian.center and most followers of UAE endurance will have read it by now.
I’m not suggesting for one second that there is anything wrong with this account, but I’d just like to make a couple of observations.
On my reading of it, overseas riders were invited to compete when standard conditions for recovery time and heart rate applied – assumed to be 64 bpm in 30 minutes for the final loop.
But we had tighter restrictions imposed in the UAE in February, and the overseas riders apparently weren’t ready for these tighter restrictions in the final loop.
The author of the piece posed the question: Why must they [the visiting riders] compete in such strict conditions?
My answer would be to compete on a level playing field with the local riders, who would have learnt of the new stricter conditions at the same time as the overseas riders.
Certainly, the local riders would have had the advantage of local knowledge and their horses would be acclimatised to the local conditions, but surely that is a hurdle that any rider competing overseas faces, unless they arrive a month or more before.
Anyway, the 27 overseas riders from 14 countries signed a petition to the FEI with the request to restore standard conditions in the final loop, at least for overseas riders.
The FEI endurance director, Manuel Bandeira de Mello, received the petition and did not approve the request.
De Mello subsequently arrived at Dubai Endurance City and met event organisers behind closed doors. Afterwards, the CEI event was cancelled and the national event was staged in its place.
The account explains that most of the overseas riders then petitioned the organising committee to allow them to start in the national ride, because they came to Dubai for the competition. The organisers agreed to the request, apparently as a mark of respect to their invited guests.
The Dubai Equestrian Club proposed that all overseas riders who took part in the national ride would do so under standard conditions for the final loop of the national ride. Some of the overseas riders took part, and this explains why some of the heart-rates recorded in the official results were over the 60 bpm threshold – they were the overseas riders.
Two final observations.
First, it strikes me as rather quirky that anyone would entertain the thought that overseas riders should compete under different heart-rate requirements than those imposed on local riders.
The piece said their goal was just to “successfully finish in competing against the new terrain, hot temperature and unusual climate without having enough time for acclimatization”. Surely, they still could have done that with the lower heart rates?
And, finally, I would have thought that when the FEI’s endurance director says “no”, it’s a none-too-subtle hint to toe the line.
Given the precarious state of UAE endurance within the FEI family, I would have thought that going ahead anyway with a higher heart-rate for the overseas riders in the national ride was asking for big trouble.
The sensible course would have been to stick with the stricter terms agreed for the last rides of the season, and I expect that would have been Mr de Mello’s advice to the organising committee.