International riders have been sent a reminder that they compete at their own risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the FEI and organising committees are not liable if anyone becomes infected.
The FEI’s waiver says there is possible exposure at shows to infectious diseases “including but not limited to COVID-19”; that participants knowingly assume all such risks, even if arising from the OC’s negligence; that participants noticing any unusual hazard will remove themselves and tell the nearest official immediately; and “release and hold harmless” the OC and FEI “to illness, disability, and death…to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
The newsletter was emailed to all FEI athletes last week, as Eric Lamaze became the first top rider to walk away from a Belgian show because of its casual disregard to risk mitigation. Belgium has Europe’s second-highest death rate from COVID-19 per head of population, with its government last week ramping up warnings of a second wave.
Lamaze posted his views on Facebook on July 24. He saw no one in face coverings at the CSI2* in Opglabbeek two weeks ago (which at that stage was discretionary for riders, though mandatory for grooms in certain situations.).
Lamaze called the organiser and thought he understood his point of view, only to learn later that on the Friday night, police were called in to stop the show’s official party, where no-one wore face coverings.
“In my opinion, it was a completely careless and reckless decision that lacked any common sense,”said Lamaze. “The show in Opglabbeek should consider its position in the industry with its beautiful facility. They should rethink their priorities- is it more important to hold a beautiful show to produce horses or to do a party and put people in danger!”
Then this past week in the CSI3* at Lier, Lamaze saw just five riders in masks. Combined with what he felt were needlessly large class sizes, Lamaze and the other Torrey Pines riders, Hayley Barnhill and Chris Pratt, decided not to stay on for the weekend.
He then gave an interview to worldofshowjumping.com, saying “if people don’t take responsibility we are going to be back home before we know it, riding in circles, because there will be no more shows.” Lamaze, who is battling a brain tumour, wears a mask and/or vizor at all times, and says it has become so routine he sometimes forgets he has them on.
Lamaze’s stance has drawn widespread support. Belgian rider Pierre-Olivier Fontaine was “ashamed” not to have worn a mask at Opglabbeek, especially as he is diabetic.
The day after Lamaze’s post, the Belgian government said its planned relaxation of restrictions will not go ahead, and made mask-wearing at sporting events mandatory for everyone over 12 (except when engaged in the athletic effort).
Top Belgian promoter Stephan Conter had already cancelled August’s 5* Brussels Stephex Masters “because it is not yet possible for an event of this size and impact to take place in Belgium.”
The FEI’s Covid liability waiver has appeared in all schedules since July 1 – the standard text for all disciplines can be read here on page 20 of the schedule for the CSI2* at Traverse City, Michigan, from July 1-5.
However, reaction to the emailed reminder suggests not everyone has noticed the waiver was already in all schedules.
Tarek Taher, endurance representative on the FEI athletes committee, has been urging riders to pay attention to the FEI risk management protocols for weeks. “‘The Participants knowingly and freely assume all such risks, both known and unknown, even if arising from the negligence of the OC or others’ – this means that even if an Organiser has been wholly incompetent in applying the FEI’s new policy and has made obvious mistakes that clearly exposed participants to infection, they would still not be held responsible,” said Taher. “They might be sanctioned by the FEI, but this will not help you or your support personnel if anyone in your crew contracts Covid-19.”