Away from the field of play, one country, one vote is the hottest topic in the world of equestrian politics. The vast majority of countries joining the FEI in the past 30 years ‒ such as Armenia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mongolia and Myanmar ‒ have no horses competing internationally and are charged as little as 2.5% each of the sums paid by Canada, the US and other major players to belong to the FEI.  Yet these small and/or inactive nations hold the balance of power when it comes to deciding new sport rules and Olympic matters. This alleged incongruity came to a head in November following the 70-30 vote in favor of continuing with three-horse teams and no drop score at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Last month the FEI took a first tiny step to limit the voting rights of future member countries. However, has learned that in 2011 the FEI’s own constitutional task force was actively blocked from proposing a reduction in voting rights for smaller or inactive existing national federations. According to task force chair Akaash Maharaj, then CEO of Equine Canada, the discussion was “strangled in its cradle” by senior FEI figures. He said it would be an “understatement” to say the FEI was “emphatic” the topic be dropped.

“In my estimation, the FEI leadership felt it held far more influence over the votes of earlier-stage NFs [national federations] than over the votes of later-stage NFs, and it did not want to attenuate its ability to control decisions in the General Assembly (GA),” said Mr. Maharaj, who became CEO of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) after leaving Equine Canada (now called Equestrian Canada) in 2012.

Akaash Maharaj.

So despite being one of the first issues the task force decided to discuss, the “veto” meant that voting rights did not make it into the consultation documents, never mind the task force’s final report; the latter also went unpublished by the FEI.

Mr. Maharaj explained why one country, one vote is not always as democratic as it sounds. “We felt it was undemocratic that national federations (NFs) with neither a history of, nor material ambitions to, participate in international competition, should be able to decide the rules for the international system,” he told HorseSport.

“The situation within the FEI, of one NF, one vote, is only superficially democratic. In practice, it means the rules are made by those who need not obey them, and those who must obey the rules can not make them.”

The tricky task would have been persuading the smallest NFs to step away from international sport rule-making; however, the task force identified an incentive. In early 2011, the FEI was due to launch its Solidarity project, providing financial support and expertise to developing equestrian nations. The task force felt such funding could be conditional on reduced voting rights.

Mr. Maharaj explained: “Our thought was to create a voting system where NFs would have a material incentive to be candid about their level of development, by giving them access to resources and voting power commensurate with that honest self-assessment.

“Earlier-stage NFs would receive greater [financial] support to grow equestrian sport in their countries, in recognition of the reality that the global spread of equestrianism is vital to the sport’s future. Later-stage NFs would hold greater votes in the General Assembly, in recognition of the reality that their horses and riders are the ones most subject to the rules made by that body.

“Critically, it would be up to the NFs themselves to decide into which category they would be placed, but the balance of costs and benefits would create overwhelming incentives for them to place themselves honestly.” But these early discussions were blocked.

FEI Solidarity went ahead without no such trade-offs for its beneficiaries. Meanwhile, task force recommendations on other matters were outlined at the FEI General Assembly (GA) in Rio in November 2011 but never published, contrary to Mr Maharaj’s expectations of public scrutiny. In the end he published all material not deemed confidential on his personal website.

There had been previous concerns about the voting powers of inexperienced equestrian nations, notably at the FEI GA in 2009 when it was widely thought they swung the vote to reintroduce tolerance of bute. The decision was only overturned a year later after global outcry and the use of FEI special powers.

During 2010 the FEI made an unsuccessful attempt to modernise other aspects of governance. In spring 2011 it formed the constitutional task force to come up with workable suggestions. Mr. Maharaj, a triple gold medalist in equestrian skill-at-arms, had distinguished past careers in finance and diplomacy, so was an obvious choice as chairman. Other
members of the task force  were César Camargo (Colombia), Paul Cargill, (Australia), Kim Gueho (Mauritius) and Ulf Helgstrand (Denmark.)

After leaving Equine Canada, Mr. Maharaj joined GOPAC, and has addressed the United Nations on the international prosecution of crimes against humanity. In 2016 WADA (the World Anti Doping Agency) invited him to join its governance advisory group as it grappled with revelations of state-sponsored doping in Russia. Among other voluntary roles, Mr Maharaj is a director of the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport.

Horsesport invited the FEI to comment but had not received a reply by the time of publication.

Chronological list shows how countries with no horses swelled FEI growth

The FEI had about 30 member nations up to the start of the second world war. Membership has more than quadrupled since 1946.

The most successful countries at the Olympic Games continue to be those with the longest heritage in equestrian sport and which had joined the FEI by the 1950s.

The Soviet bloc broke up in the early 1990s. The successor states of the USSR and Yugoslavia account for 21 of the “new” European countries which joined the FEI thereafter. Twenty-four of the 33 other countries joining the FEI since 1990 currently have no registered horses. A few have just one or two.

The list below shows the FEI member countries by year of joining, with the number of horses registered during 2021 in brackets. Further details of numbers of riders, officials and horses registered so far for 2022 can be found in the FEI’s A-Z list here.

Where NFs have notably fewer horses than riders, most of the latter are based in other countries. Current registration figures are not significantly different from pre-pandemic times. Where NFs with no horses have had horses in the past, they rarely exceeded low single figures.

Annual subscriptions to the FEI for national federations are on a sliding scale. In 2021, because of the pandemic, the FEI halved them so last year they ranged from CHF 250 (normally CHF 500) for the 50 smallest NFs, to CHF 10,000 (normally CHF20,000), paid by 23 countries including Canada, the US and leading European countries. One Swiss franc (CHF) equals 1.4 Canadian dollars.

FEI member countries by year of joining:

1921 USA (horses FEI registered in 2021: 3,766)
1921 France (10,363)
1921 Belgium (5,702)
1921 Denmark (1,018)
1921 Italy (4,151)
1921 Japan (67)
1921 Sweden (1,434)
1921 Norway (550)
1923 Switzerland (2,746)
1923 Finland (457)
1924 Spain (2,372)
1924 Netherlands (3,998)
1925 Great Britain (5,373)
1927 Germany (8,339)
1927 Czech Republic (859)
1927 Hungary (943)
1928 Argentina (340)
1928 Portugal (755)
1928 Bulgaria (168)
1928 Austria (1102)
1931 Ireland (1,392)
1930 Romania (206)
1932 Turkey (174)
1935 Brazil (385)
1935 Chile (225)
1937 Cuba (0)
1938 Greece (230)
1938 Mexico (883)
1946 Egypt (141)
1947 Colombia (47)
1947 South Africa (105)
1947 Venezuela (60)
1949 Guatemala (13)
1950 Canada (763)
1951 New Zealand (406)
1952 Republic of Korea (4)
1951 Australia (799)
1952 Peru (13)
1956 Luxembourg (222)
1956 Zimbabwe (14)
1957 Ecuador (84)
1957 Lebanon (3)
1958 Morocco (60)
1959 Bolivia (2)
1959 Iran (111)
1960 Uruguay (392)
1961 Tunisia (94)
1963 Algeria (23)
1964 Puerto Rico (7)
1970 Libya (19)
1971 India (79)
1971 Syria (76)
1972 El Salvador (8)
1973 Costa Rica (18)
1975 Indonesia (4)
1975 Singapore (2)
1975 Chinese Taipei (0)
1975 Philippines (4)
1975 Poland (1,887)
1976 Bermuda (10)
1977 Virgin Islands (1)
1978 Hong Kong (47)
1979 Dominican Republic (9)
1980 Kuwait (115)
1980 Congo (2)
1980 Paraguay (0)
1981 Malaysia (24)
1981 Zambia (2)
1982 Qatar (66)
1982 Cyprus (12)
1982 Pakistan (0)
1983 Thailand (34)
1983 China (60)
1983 Jamaica (0)
1984 Liechtenstein (23)
1985 UAE (2,253)
1985 Bahrain (505)
1985 Honduras (6)
1986Oman (48)
1986 Israel (21)
1988 Jordan (196)
1989 Panama (2)
1989 San Marino (2)
1990 Saudi Arabia (946)
1992 Estonia (254)
1992 Latvia (110)
1992 Lithuania (155)
1992 Croatia (76)
1992 Namibia (1)
1992 Slovenia (74)
1993 Kyrgyzstan (19)
1993 Kazakhstan (30)
1993 Russian Federation (993)
1993 Botswana (0)
1993 Belarus (94)
1993 Slovakia (388)
1993 Ukraine (164)
1993 Uzbekistan (84)
1994 Ethiopia (0)
1994 Senegal (4)
1994 Barbados (0)
1994 Moldova (5)
1994 Mauritius (0)
1995 Monaco (157)
1996 Kenya (0)
1996 Myanmar (0)
1996 Sudan (0)
1997 Antigua and Barbuda (0)
1997 Azerbaijan (10)
1997 Iceland (0)
1997 Turkmenistan (0)
1998 Andorra (2)
1998 Trinidad and Tobago (1)
1999 Georgia (4)
1999 Nicaragua (0)
1999 Palestine (0)
1999 Malta (1)
1999 Haiti (0)
1999 Eswatini (0)
2000 Armenia (0)
2002 Serbia (19)
2002 Malawi (0)
2004 Cayman Islands (4)
2004 North Macedonia (7)
2004 Sri Lanka (0)
2005 Iraq (0)
2005 Madagascar (0)
2007 Yemen (0)
2007 Albania (0)
2007 Cambodia (0)
2014 Angola (0)
2015 Bosnia and Herzegovina (1)
2018 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (0)
2019 Bahamas (0)
2019 Ivory Coast (0)
2019 Mongolia (0)
2021 Nepal – new associate member, no figures available