The FEI has asked the equestrian community to behave like “global citizens” and adhere to all social distancing protocols, however inconvenient.

FEI medical committee chairman Dr. Mark Hart spoke out amid concerns that social distancing and mask-wearing are being widely ignored at shows and events in northern Europe. Eric Lamaze recently walked away from the CSI in Lier, Belgium, for this reason.

Dr. Mark Hart

Dr. Hart says that the FEI Policy for Enhanced Competition Safety during the Covid-19 Pandemic was crafted to provide a safe environment for all, and that science supports its effectiveness “when applied both consistently and in a strict manner.”

He continues: “There is no middle ground and there are no grey areas. As a community, we cannot just apply what we want and ignore what is seen as an inconvenience. In no uncertain terms, we absolutely require the consistent application of all guidelines and recommendations regarding the wearing of face masks, appropriate social distancing and regular and thorough hand sanitising for a successful return to our sport.

“This is not just the responsibility of competition organisers …. athletes, their extended support teams, volunteers, vendors, and fans must all be held to the same level of accountability.

“We must now make some sacrifices and adapt our habits for the benefit of the greater good. This pandemic demands these changes as it will be with us until an effective vaccine is developed and distributed around the world.”

He stresses that horsemen must demonstrate they can behave responsibly if they want sport to resume, in a show of “global citizenship.”

Dr. Hart’s message is contained in the latest FEI Update which is emailed to a subscriber base, rather than issued more widely as a press release. More information about Covid measures can be found on the FEI Return to Play hub.

All FEI-affiliated organisers must complete the risk assessment prepared for sport by the World Health Organization (WHO), or be removed from the FEI calendar. However, it is unclear if any FEI personnel are making “spot checks” at events to ensure the Covid protocols are being applied. FEI sport judges, officials and stewards are not empowered to enforce the measures ‒ this is down to the Organiser ‒ though they can feed-back any concerns to FEI HQ.

Parts of Europe which appeared to be over the worst of Covid and so relaxed some measures have recently experienced a new “spike” in infections, and variously reimposed travel bans, quarantines and localised lockdowns. Lamaze noted that one official show party went ahead and had to be broken up by the police. Just days later, Belgian government mandated mask-wearing at all sporting and other gatherings by people aged above 12.

The FEI protocols have been followed much more rigorously in North America. The UK has yet to resume FEI events; to date, social distancing has been well observed at its resumed national events.