Endurance committee takes first steps to clean up sport

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A temporary committee charged with an urgent review of the FEI’s endurance rules has had its first in-person meeting at FEI Headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

The committee has a remit to bring the discipline back to its original roots of endurance riding as opposed to endurance racing. Britain’s Dr Sarah Coombs, chairwoman of the committee, said it had received “a huge amount” of feedback from the endurance community on an array of topics, following its establishment by the FEI Board.

Coombs said the committee would do “whatever is necessary to rebuild the trust of our community and restore the image of a discipline that has every right to remain a part of the FEI, provided the rules are adhered to and enforced to ensure that our horses are protected and cheating is stamped out.”

She said the meeting generated “strong and productive debate”, and its key focus areas had been decided.

“Your voices are being heard. We are under no illusions about the challenges of the task ahead, but the future of the discipline is under the spotlight.”

Feedback included requests for increased testing of horses for prohibited substances and increased sanctions for horse abuse, a review of speeds, a redefinition of elimination codes (particularly Catastrophic Injury), Elite athlete status and “jockey riders”, qualifications, including qualification as a combination; hyposensitivity screening (the use of the FEI Hyposensitivity Control System was voted in at last month’s FEI General Assembly for implementation in 2019), definition of and registration of trainers, mandatory medication logbooks and out of competition testing, and course design and crewing numbers. Tack and equipment in use in the sport was also under review.

In addition to Dr Sarah Coombs, an FEI veterinarian former team vet for Britain, a trustee of World Horse Welfare and chair of its Veterinary Advisory Committee, the other members of the Temporary Committee are endurance rider and member of the FEI Athletes’ Committee Tarek Taher (KSA); chef d’équipe of the Dutch Endurance team Pieter Wiersinga, a Police Commissioner and former head of the mounted police in The Netherlands; FEI Veterinary Committee member Dr Tim Parkin (GBR), who heads up the scientific research conducted at the University of Glasgow as part of the FEI’s Global Endurance Injuries Study (GEIS), and Valerie Kanavy, a former member of the FEI Athletes’ Committee and the Athletes’ Representative on the Endurance Committee (2014-2018).

FEI vice-president Mark Samuel joined the meeting and will facilitate communications between the Temporary Committee and the FEI Board. FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez, FEI Endurance Director Manuel Bandeira De Mello, FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström and other FEI staff members also attended the meeting.

The Temporary Committee’s next in-person meeting is on January 15, and there will be a dedicated endurance session at the FEI Sports Forum 2019 (April 15-16) during which the Temporary Committee will provide an update to delegates.

Kanavy, who won gold at the World Equestrian Games in 1994 and 1998, replaced Dr Meg Sleeper earlier in the month after the latter advised the FEI that she was in breach of the rules on mandatory rest periods after competing in two US events.

Sleeper, who has competed in FEI Endurance since 2005 and is also a trainer, official veterinarian and veterinary cardiologist, said: “As soon as I realised that I could be in violation of FEI rest period rules I immediately contacted the FEI and my colleagues on the temporary committee and explained the situation. Once it was confirmed, I knew that the right thing to do was to resign. I made a mistake and I bitterly regret it, but the work of the temporary committee will shape the future of my discipline and that is too important to allow my mistake to deflect from that goal.”

Sleeper was given 100 penalty points and an automatic two-month suspension from December 4.

FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said: “We are sorry to lose Meg Sleeper, and we appreciate her honesty and transparency in immediately advising us of this issue, even before it had been confirmed by her National Federation, but it was clear that her position on the Temporary Committee was untenable in these circumstances.”

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