On Monday, the FEI annulled hundreds of ranking points won at a controversial jumping venue in France – but the French federation finds it ‘painful’ the shows went ahead in the first place

Sophie Dubourg of French Equestrian Federation (FFE) has spoken out about her “painful” months observing the jumping rankings controversy unfold at the Villeneuve-Loubet shows, while being powerless to intervene.

Mme Duborg, FFE’s national technical director, today (February 19) told French magazine Grand Prix Replay that FFE raised concerns to the FEI about the venue’s multiple 2* CSIs back in September. FFE was amazed the shows were allowed to go ahead in December and January by the FEI; as the national federation, FFE could act only as “postbox and interlocutor.”

On Monday (February 17) the FEI annulled ranking points won at Villeneuve-Loubet and also Damascus, Syria, in December, which had drastically impacted on the Longines world rankings and Olympic individual qualifying; as a result, Sri Lanka’s Mathilda Karlsson lost her Tokyo ticket. The FEI admitted the schedules were erroneously approved at FEI HQ.

Key anomalies, as first revealed in HorseSport.com last month, were the deliberately restricted entry – some Grands Prix had just five starters, and full points were awarded for a 28-fault round – and the addition of rankings classes only after the close of definite entries.

The FFE, like all NFs, is obliged to submit schedules for home CSIs to the FEI, though it has no powers to intervene over content. Since September, the FFE raised queries and was assured by the FEI that the matter was in hand.

Invitations were initially confined to a small number of countries excluding France [the venue owner’s son, Andrea Herck was an active participant but represented Romania]. France was added only after a request from the FEI.

Entry was restricted to 20 riders – (most CSI2* shows in Europe set no upper limit.) The initial program did not incentivise entries because there was only one ranking class per show and little prize money. She said despite the venue’s quality, Villeneuve was not popular with French riders due to “other problems.”

Only after the definite entries deadline were two extra rankings classes added to each of three events. The FFE processed this request out of transparency. Riders who tried to obtain invitations in ample time or make late entries when the enhanced schedule became known were “systematically” refused by the organizer. Some riders testified to the FFE that the organizer then contacted them to dissuade them from participating.

The FFE was disappointed it had been partially blamed for the erroneous handling of schedules. “It bothered us for four months and having to watch what was happening was painful – very painful,” said Mme Duborg.

France is the premier organizer of international competitions. “We must guarantee ethics and a certain quality of organization, added MMe Duborg. “For many, what was happening in Villeneuve-Loubet was very obscure and we responded factually to the many requests by saying that we had questioned the FEI, which told us that everything was in order.”

Since January, HorseSport.com has repeatedly invited the Villeneuve organization to respond to the widely published concerns. The organiser declined to address these points directly, other than accurately pointing out that his schedules abided by FEI rules and that the FEI approved them. A Villeneuve spokesman did say, though, that it had been “clever” to notice that this kind of restricted entry show could be programmed under “stupid” rules.