Cuckson Report // Pippa Cuckson

New Endurance Rules Lost in Translation

New endurance rules were so incomprehensible that after a closed debate they were all shelved until 2019 pending further discussions.

By: Cuckson Report // Pippa Cuckson

British people, certainly my generation, can be very lazy about other languages. Much of the world has English as its first or second tongue, so we think we don’t have to bother. I was taught French in a very academic way in the 1970s, equipping me read Sartre without having to consult a dictionary too much, but not confident enough to chat for hours with an actual person.

I lost my nerve on a trip to Berlin years ago, when trying to give directions to a fellow tourist. After establishing we had a smattering of French in common I proudly escorted him to a watch shop a couple of blocks away. But he wasn’t saying he wanted a horlogerie. He was trying to find the Hard Rock Café.

Clumsy misunderstandings are not always a cause for levity. I have often felt that rules for horse sport drafted in English by someone who is not a native English speaker and then debated by people for whom English is also only a second or third language is a major handicap for the FEI. A number of FEI regulations do not actually say what people think they say.

All this came to a head at the FEI General Assembly in Uruguay last week where new endurance rules proposals were so incomprehensible, several delegates tell me, that after a closed debate they were all shelved till 2019 pending further discussions.

The official reason for delaying them is that it wasn’t fair on riders to introduce new rules part way through the qualifying period for the 2018 WEG. I don’t recall that ever being advanced as a reason for suspending new rules in other sports, even though jumping, dressage and eventing also have an Olympic qualifying cycle to cope with, unlike endurance.

The greater likelihood that the new endurance rules were shelved because they were not understood (also, I suspect, opening the door for a bit of brinkmanship from the UAE and others targeted by the welfare aspects.) This is evident in the final day’s debate that was held in public. If you have a spare half hour you can see the shambles in all its glory in this extract from the official livestream. I have watched it several times since and am still not sure what the hell was going on.

Despite the fact they will be re-visited, votes still went ahead on the detail of the new but now defunct rules. Each topic had to be re-explained endlessly. In the background, a bureau member can be heard muttering to endurance chair Brian Sheahan that FEI endurance director Manuel de Mello wasn’t putting it over properly. Well, here’s a radical thought: why not intervene and help him out?

A very distinguished judge, Major Yap of Malaysia, grabbed the mike twice to complain vociferously about the process. He was especially concerned that voting was being taken on a minor point of detail about five-star rides, before the principle of introducing this new upper level at all had even been agreed by the nations. He was asked to shut up. But if Major Yap, who is steeped in endurance, didn’t get it, how can we be sure that the 50-odd national federations who do not do endurance at all cast their votes wisely?

The other tragedy is that, as the 2017-2018 UAE season car-crashes into yet another attempt to break both legs and the land-speed record new welfare measures have been caught in the crossfire and are also now shelved till 2019.

The previous day the FEI had renewed its Global Endurance Injuries Study for another two years. The study’s initial findings – presented with much fanfare this spring – directly led to an important new rule imposing an extra seven days rest on the horses who exceed 20 kph. In its press release the FEI spokesman said the GEIS gave “the clear message that speed and insufficient rest periods are key risk factors, highlighting that an increase of seven days on the mandatory rest periods established in 2014 could potentially prevent up to 10% of the failed-to-qualify statistics.” Well, that ain’t happening now.

The other low-light of the Assembly was the matter-of-fact announcement that Samorin doesn’t want to host WEG 2022 after all. This brand-newish venue in Slovakia had been given till the start of November to sign the organiser’s contract with the FEI but declined to do so “despite many talks”. Bidding will be re-opened, but don’t worry about being crushed in the stampede.

This is the fourth time that an originally selected WEG host has dropped out a year or so later and, even more significantly, the second consecutive time that the successful bidder has bailed after winning by default because all other possibles withdrew before any kind of competitive evaluation has taken place.

The FEI remains adamant that WEG is viable even though no one seems to want to stage it and, as far as we know, only Stockholm (1990,) Jerez (2002) and Aachen (2006) managed not to make a loss.

I was surprised when Samorin was chosen for 2022. I suppose it had to be given a pat-on-the-back for so keenly being available to help out in other emergencies. It offered alongside Tryon to take on WEG 2018 after the Bromont debacle, and hosted the 2016 World Endurance Championship at short notice after the FEI de-selected Dubai when worried about horse welfare concerns. Though at that latter event, FEI observers cannot have been filled with confidence. Samorin’s organisational capability fell well short, with mismanagement of fatally injured UAE team horse Ajayeb and then overseeing her removal directly to a livestock crematorium rather than the autopsy where she was expected.

I have written many times that the WEG concept is a lemon. I truly don’t know who this “all sports in one basket” idea is aimed at because I am pretty sure the only community that attends two or more disciplines during the WEG fortnight is the media, often out of obligation rather than burning personal interest.

The first WEG was only intended as a “one-off” when first imagined in the early 1980s by former FEI president Prince Philip. Until then, all horse sports staged their world championships separately. Reversion to this would enable many more countries to stage a viable championship of global importance at a tried and tested venue that is well equipped for the nuances of that discipline. The WEG is far from inclusive, whatever the marketeers insist, for it has never been staged outside north America and Europe, not even eastern Europe now that Samorin has come and gone.

Prince Philip came from a dwindling culture of multi-faceted horsemen and when he first had the idea, foreign travel was still pretty expensive, so it made some sense to provide an opportunity to see everything in the same place. But now, horse sport comprises a plethora of obsessively single-interest groups, and bargain travel means it is no longer cost-prohibitive for fans to follow their favourite sport to a far-flung spot every four years. You can now fly coach to Australia from the UK for less than I paid to travel down-under in 1986 to Gawler for the last stand-alone world eventing championship.

That’s assuming people even want to be there in person nowadays. It can be just as much fun to watch on your phone and simultaneously discuss it in real time with folks all around the globe, a notion beyond the wildest imagination of anyone involved with WEG 1990.