The Spanish Equestrian Federation has failed to persuade the FEI Tribunal that medals should have been awarded in the abandoned Endurance race at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) last September.
The Spanish riders were leading and in gold medal contention when officials called off the race due to a dangerous combination of heat and humidity, and deteriorating on-course conditions.
Tribunal member Chris Hodson, QC, sitting as a one-member panel, dismissed the appeal, upholding decision of the WEG Appeals Committee, which had considered the Spanish federation’s arguments and decided against awarding medals.
The September 12 race at Tryon, North Carolina, was marred by controversy from the moment it began, when some riders were misdirected on the first loop.
When this error was discovered, a decision was taken by the president of the Ground Jury, after consulting with its members, to effectively void the first loop and restart the competitors whose horses had passed their vet checks on a shorter 120km race, going through four gates.
The race was well advanced when, at around 5.30pm, the technical delegate, Mr Rui Amante, announced at the vet gate on behalf of the Ground Jury president that the race had been cancelled because of the weather.
The decision, made on the grounds of horse welfare, had been unanimous among the relevant officials.
The competitors and their entourage, including the riders on the course, were made aware of the announcement.
The FEI issued a confirmation notice and said that no medals would be awarded as a result of the cancellation.
The following day, the Spanish federation went to the Appeals Committee at WEG to challenge the decision not to award medals. A hearing was held the same day, with the committee issuing its decision a day later.
The committee, in its ruling, noted that while the Spanish officials might not have necessarily agreed with the cancellation decision, they could understand it.
The committee denied the appeal and upheld the cancellation decision. It backed the decision not to award medals. It noted that the rules of Endurance clearly indicated that, to win a medal, the competition must be completed.
The committee said it recognised the superb horsemanship, skills and sporting achievements of competitors who did well on the course in difficult conditions. They had excelled despite difficult weather and terrain conditions.
“Still, this in itself, does not necessitate the awarding of medals,” it said.
The Spanish federation went on to appeal the medals decision before the FEI Tribunal.
It argued before the tribunal that there was an absence of legal provision for these cases. It noted that more than 80% of the race had been completed by the race leaders at the time of cancellation.
It submitted that the effort made by the leading riders and horses, in a sporting event held under very adverse circumstances, had to be recognised. Indeed, the Appeals Committee had recognised the superb horsemanship and skills of the leading competitors.
If further argued that the section of rules requiring competitors to finish the course in order to be the winner could be interpreted differently. It submitted that “finishing the course” could also be when it was decided to cancel the race, which would then be the conclusion of the race.
The FEI argued that the appeal should be dismissed. According to Endurance rules, medals can only be awarded if the race was completed, it said. This meant the combinations had to complete the entire course, he said.
“As the WEG 2018 Endurance competition was cancelled before any combination had completed the full course, medals cannot be awarded,” it argued.
The FEI said there had been no procedural flaws concerning the decision of the WEG 2018 Appeal Committee. It had considered all relevant facts and had issued a well-reasoned and complete decision.
“There was,” it said, “no precedent for awarding medals in an Endurance competition where the combinations in question had not completed the full course.”
The Appeal Committee Decision had been correct, and the Spanish federation had not put forward any new arguments as to why the decision should be overturned.
“There was simply no legal basis in the rules for awarding medals in circumstances where the combinations have not completed the entire course.
“No combination finished the course or presented for a final Veterinary Inspection.”
It accepted that the race was well advanced at the time of cancellation, but the only official standings went back to Vet Gate 2, where Spanish combinations were in provisional first, second, fourth and fifth positions.
“However, these were not final placings. The reality was, that if the race had continued, one had no idea what the final placing would have been.”
The tribunal, in its decision, said no combination finished the full course, which was not disputed by the parties. However, even if the course could have been said to have been completed at the moment of cancellation, no one is clearly recorded having the final veterinary check required in order to be declared the winner.
“While the tribunal has total sympathy for the Spanish riders, who as a team were doing better than anyone until the competition was cancelled, no-one knows what would have happened had the competition continued to a close.”
The tribunal found that the Appeals Committee had been correct in its decision.
The Spanish federation’s appeal was dismissed.
The parties were ordered to bear their own costs and expenses in the appeal.