In a normal year, 46,000 riders, vaulters and drivers compete in FEI sport. Even in an abnormal year like this one, 25,000 had got as far as re-registering for the 2020 international season, before Covid 19 stopped everything.
So that’s tens of thousands of riders either likely to have their horses sampled by anti-doping personnel, or who at least know someone that has.
There are certainly thousands of riders when it comes to complaining on Facebook – about proven dopers not been banned for long enough, or the unfairness of the system towards victims of contamination. These posts often include a swipe at the FEI for not listening to riders.
Well, the FEI does want to listen to riders. There has always been a mechanism for riders to feedback via their national federation. But this spring the FEI invited riders to consult directly over the new doping rules. In fact, anyone at all could write in. To make it user-friendly, the blurb was simplified. One section was even headlined “Have Your Say – We Want Your Input.”
And how many riders responded? Just one. Even that was someone apparently so anxious not to cause upset over lax stable security that they asked to remain anonymous!
In fact, only three individuals altogether offered their views on the new anti doping rules. One of the other two was Yuri Yagi, a sports lawyer from Tokyo who is a CAS arbitrator and former intern at the FEI legal department. She, arguably, has a professional interest, rather than the viewpoint of someone the rules are directed at. The other respondent was a Dr. Teigen Bond, who is I believe is a veterinarian practising in Nova Scotia with no apparent involvement in FEI sport.
There was also very specific input from the British Equestrian Trade Association, a long time lead body over the correct labelling of feed and supplements. Eddie Moloney, the Irish jumping rider, also sent something in, but that was about pony measuring.
How do I know the response was so pitifully small? Well, with great transparency the FEI always publishes all responses, even when they are daft, incoherent or brazenly lifted from someone else. Here they are on this topic. [Ed note: the feedback document was updated by the FEI on August 13 to include responses from USEF which had been “inadvertently” omitted.]
I guess that jumping riders have an excuse, in that the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) made in its own lengthy submission, having campaigned about contamination for the past couple of years.
But there’s no input from any other discipline, not even endurance which has the worst doping record of all. Many people are caught out by riding “strange” horses, especially when accepting (more fool them) invitations to endurance rides in the UAE and so, you’d think, would be keen to see new provisions deflecting the blame.
Responses from national federations are also limited, though that’s not unusual. It’s the norm for only the big hitters from the Americas, Europe, the Kiwis and the Aussies, English-speaking countries in Africa to offer a comment on anything. Those mostly are the active nations with a long equestrian heritage and hence a well honed comprehension of key issues. This further underpins the widely held belief that many of the FEI’s 137 member countries should not vote on important regulatory topics, because they just don’t have the bigger picture.
I was not surprised that Equestrian Australia did not respond this time, for they are in disarray after going into voluntary administration. Though it was a tad odd to see nothing from USEF, which always contributes with authority and insight, or from Canada.
In a normal year, I get it that riders don’t have time for these consultations. But with no shows everyone must surely have welcomed a distraction, albeit brief, from the pandemic. Obviously not.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that I am surprised. I shouldn’t be. In 40 years of reporting international horse sport, I have met many riders who admit to never reading the FEI rulebook until AFTER falling foul of it!
The incentive and intellectual capacity of the general populace to read boring but important tomes has further declined now that so many communicate in 33-character tweets. (Historically, only 9% of tweeters even used up the old 140-character limit.)
I had meant to summarise the anti-doping feedback in this article: really, really important things like whether there should be a FOUR-year ban for doping instead of TWO, in line with other sports under the WADA code; or whether riders should be treated more leniently right from the off in the increasing cases of contamination. It could be you – as seven jumping riders who fed Teff hay supplied by CSI organisers in Mexico recently found.
Contamination cases always end up with exoneration, but you are still looking at CAN$80,000 (50,000 Euros) in unrecoverable legal fees when involving an attorney. No need to make this stuff up – that was the very real experience discussed by the IJRC last year.
Myself, I must remember to renew my membership with the Apathy Society… but maybe not today….