Dr. Ignasi Casas Vaque, the chef d’equipe at the centre of angry scenes when the 2018 WEG endurance ride was called off, has had his one-year suspension for “incorrect behaviour” reduced to three months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
A one-year suspension – long since served – was handed down by the FEI Tribunal in February 2019. Casas Vaque was chef d’equipe of the Spanish team, who were in gold medal position when the ride was finally called off in worsening conditions, having already been subject to a false start and a re-start.
The FEI had argued he had obligations to the FEI because of his many senior roles in international endurance, including deputy chairmanship of the FEI endurance committee.
CAS did find that Casas Vaque behaved incorrectly under FEI General Regulations, especially as a senior official and veterinarian; he was “very negligent” for someone of his status, especially as the incident was filmed and gained “significant attention” on the internet.
Furthermore, with a good command of English he should have known how the language used ‒ such as saying “the riders will kill you” to ground jury president Jean Pierre Allegret and calling the FEI “cheats” ‒ would have been received. It did not matter if they were intended as a figure of speech or were Spanish colloquialisms which do not translate literally.
However, in partially upholding his appeal, CAS found that three months suspension was a more proportionate penalty. To CAS, the many mitigating circumstances suggested Casas Vaque did not need a longer deterrent to committing a future outburst. Moreover, there was no evidence his behaviour had caused damage.
CAS also disagreed with the FEI that Casas Vaque had incited the crowd to enter the vetgate, thereby putting others at risk. In raising his arms and shouting “Come On” he was instead seeking support for a reversal of the cancellation.
The CAS decision was handed down in January. However, the detailed decision notice has only been recently published.
It sheds further light on organisational chaos at Tryon. There were discussions whether the ride should have gone ahead at all, in view of logistical concerns arising from the test ride in spring 2018. This included the unreliable GPS tracking system ‒ a new system was hurriedly introduced the morning of the WEG ride itself, adding to the confusion ‒ and likely heat and humidity.
CAS reports that “notwithstanding the identified likely difficulties, the FEI decided to go on with the event. The decision to continue with the endurance event….was influenced by the fear that if the endurance event was abandoned there would with a withdrawal of sponsorships, which would endanger the FEI’s ability to proceed with the remaining events.”
CAS heard extensive testimony from riders of several nationalities and officials about Casas Vaque’s good character, and his strenuous efforts to help all riders, not just the Spanish, with basic needs at the still-under-construction Tryon facility.
CAS also criticised the FEI for focussing on Casas Vaque when other people acting “dangerously” had not been disciplined.
Ground jury member Kevin Croke was “hit by an individual several times.” Croke later wrote that when “sanity” was restored he accepted his assailant’s apology and decided not to report him as it was “likely to tarnish further the reputation of endurance.” It was not a malicious action but an explosion of the frustration felt by all – Croke did not take it personally or feel his dignity had been harmed.
Another official, Fernando Uriarte was punched by a French team member and fell, which he reported to the FEI.
Uriarte said that by contrast Casas Vaque was “very nervous and excited but never threatened or insulted anybody.”
CAS said the decision to cancel was legitimate, but the FEI should have been aware of the likely consequences which were “on the shoulders of all organisers.” FEi had proceeded with the ride “because of sponsors at all costs.”
To CAS, Casas Vaque’s behaviour “was a reaction to established extreme circumstances contributed to by the [FEI’s] acts, omissions and the final decisions. He was not affected alone; everyone present had reactions which were displayed differently, some even physically which is worse. There is no doubt that the appellant crossed the line but there is also no doubt he was provoked….to punish only the appellant, both with the longest possible suspension available and the additional fine is not appropriate nor necessary.”
The FEI fine of 2,000 Swiss francs was upheld, though the FEi was ordered to contribute 5,000 Swiss francs to his legal costs.
CAS decided it had no jurisdiction to handle Casas Vaque’s additional appeal to be reinstated to the FEI endurance committee.