Do you agree that the minimum suspension for a doping offence should be doubled to four years? Is it time for a less draconian stance over recreational drugs and contamination? While the world is in limbo over Covid-19, there is a real chance for all stakeholders to refresh knowledge of the Equine Anti Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMRs) and also the human athlete rules.

Moreover, until May 11 you can have a say about how these rules could look from January 2021. They are being overhauled right now, in tandem with the periodic revision of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) code, to which the FEI is a signatory.

In the past the FEI has invited public comment over major rule revisions after airing them at its annual April sports forum, before the statutory consultation of national federations begins. But at the start of a busy season only a handful of riders usually respond. Following the 2020 forum’s cancellation, the FEI has put all anti-doping discussion documents online, with instructions about how to submit your comments. Judging from some of the excuses/defences/reasons proffered in Tribunal cases, most riders have a sketchy understanding of this huge topic, despite its facility to kibosh a career. I am not seeing much talk about the 2021 proposals on social media, even though we all have spare time to tackle some heavy reading. So here are some key pointers.

Recreational Drugs

Some of the WADA changes have been informed by the experience of the Russian human athlete doping crisis, the need to protect whistleblowers and an increase in use of social drugs – a growing issue in equestrianism which featured in the Canadian and Qatari  disqualification from Olympic qualifiers last year.

Perhaps the most radical proposal, buried in a mountain of paperwork, is a more relaxed approach to social drugs. “Substances of Abuse” is a new category in the WADA Prohibited List, including recreational drugs.

Athletes who can prove their use was not related to sport and was taken out-of-competition can receive a three-month sanction (reduced to one month if they attend a rehabilitation program). This could represent quite a change in stance for equestrianism, where past offences involving cocaine and cannabis have resulted in bans of over a year.

WADA wants to answer the “challenges” posed by sanctions for street drugs, “which are a problem for society in general unrelated to sport performance.” The FEI says that while stimulants like cocaine can clearly be performance-enhancing, the quantity detected “strongly suggests” the use was social with no effect on sport performance. Where an athlete has a “drug problem,” not a performance-enhancement problem that affects the level playing field, the athlete’s health is the priority.

It should be obvious that neither the FEI or WADA are saying recreational drugs use is a good idea – instead, they are saying it is not the business of a sports regulatory body. To protect the athletes who are not intending to cheat, WADA is looking at new reporting thresholds for such substances.

Sanctions

Key changes include whether the minimum suspension for an equine banned substances offence should be doubled to four years – to comply with the WADA tariff for humans which to date the FEI has not adopted. If so, should it apply across the board or be discipline-specific? Moreover, does the horse community support a new WADA article allowing someone facing a four-year ban to admit the violation within 20 days in return for a one-year reduction. This incentive to admit the breach could save the cost of a hearing without being “too lenient.”

The athlete will always have to show how any prohibited substance entered the horse, to assess the level of fault/negligence. At present, when the athlete cannot demonstrate this – guesswork does not count – there is no reduction from the [current] minimum two-year suspension for a banned substances offence, and six months for a controlled meds offence. If no fault/negligence is established – an infrequent occurrence – there is no suspension. If no significant fault/negligence is established, the minimum sanction is halved, ie one year for a banned substance.

Contamination

This has been a big issue in the past two years, particularly in jumping where 40% of cases handled by the FEI Tribunal have been attributed to contamination – often caused by poppy seeds, autumn crocus and Teff hay. Stakeholders are asked if they’d prefer more flexibility over sanctions, even if the athlete bears some fault for the contamination?

The FEI has also set out ways to mitigate contamination. Some are stable management basics, such as inspecting grazing for dangerous plants and thoroughly cleaning stables between horses, which one hopes any barn would be doing routinely! But then again the declining level of horsemanship never fails to astound and dismay…

There is a reminder of the need to record batch number and keep samples, and only buy quality feed with Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances (NOPS) testing, which should guarantee it is free from common contaminants such as caffeine, theobromine, theophylline, morphine, hyoscine, hordenine and atropine.

Regularly clean your storage bins, because old feed becomes mouldy. Certain moulds can result in naturally occurring prohibited substances. Traces of liniments and shampoos can be found in washing off areas – some may contain prohibited caffeine.

In show stables, substances like flunixin have been reabsorbed by the horse via urine and droppings. Horses have tested positive for human drugs after stable staff taking medication or recreational drugs urinated in their stables or touched the horse with unprotected hands.

Dogs and cats receiving medication must not be allowed into stables.

Handlers should ensure medication is marked with the name of the horse, and packaging re-sealed to prevent accidental spillage. Powdered medication can produce clouds of powder, so the FEI recommends mixing it with small amounts of wet feed to reduce contamination – for which reason gel, paste or liquid formulations, if available, are recommended. It also suggests dedicating one person to medication administration, to prevent a horse receiving a double dose which could lead to a positive.

Use of disposable bandages and gloves are recommended and, as we are now all conditioned to doing during the coronavirus, so is Washing Your Hands!

Supplements

The FEI has issued yet another reminder that commercially made supplements are often mislabelled. To date, FEI riders may have been allowed to feed supplements at their own risk – a mislabelled product would not provide a “no fault no negligence” defence which is a prerequisite for lenient treatment. The FEI has issued many warnings about supplement risks, one as recently as December 2019 following two dressage cases in the US .

However, in tandem with a change of thinking at WADA, equestrians are now being asked if reporting limits for prohibited substances often found in supplements should be reviewed.

Endurance Trainers

One of the FEI’s many measures to address problems in endurance was the mandatory registration of trainers, and trainers in turn have become automatically joined with the rider in doping offences. It was widely anticipated some would get round the problem by registering horses with the name of someone who is not “hands-on” – and there is ample evidence this is exactly what has happened. However, there is no indication of a change in approach by the FEI, nor that whole endurance stables could be suspended, as the community often demands.

The FEI explains it can only impose restrictions and sanctions that (i) are designed to pursue a legitimate imperative; (ii) are necessary in order to achieve that objective; and (iii) are proportionate. This principle has been upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The FEI says that suspending an endurance trainer and all his/her horses could lead to the exclusion of many horses where there is no suspicion they are tainted in any way. Provisionally suspending all of a trainer’s horses may have legitimate objectives “but it goes further than is necessary to achieve those objectives.”

Under current FEI policy, a horse with a banned substance in its system is only provisionally suspended two months; why then would it be necessary to exclude other horses for longer when they have never even tested positive? Unlike in racing, the FEI does not license stables, so the option of temporarily shutting a trainer’s entire yard is not available.

Team Disqualification

There are two different approaches. The FEI is inviting comment on whether they should be aligned.

At the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and FEI World Equestrian Games (or world championships) if a team-member breaches the anti-doping rules, the entire team is disqualified. At all other team events, including championships and Nations Cups, the individual’s horse and/or rider’s results are disqualified, and there is reinstatement of any available drop score. While this has the effect of sending the team down the leaderboard ‒ as afflicted Canada at the Pan Ams last year ‒ team disqualification is not automatic.

Out of Competition Testing

No change is proposed to intelligence-led out of competition testing. But given the complexities of equestrian sport, who should be the Person Responsible for an out of competition positive – owner, trainer or athlete? There will be a dedicated forum/workshop on this particular aspect at a later date.

Views on all or any of these matters can also be emailed direct to FEI Legal team members, [email protected] or [email protected]