The UAE, focus of welfare and cheating concerns in endurance racing, has been suspended a second time by the FEI.
The suspension relates to the running of high profile rides as CEN (national events) despite a large overseas representation, to avoid applying the stricter new FEI endurance rules which took effect on January 1.
Activity in all FEI disciplines is suspended till December 31, 2020, and endurance activity is suspended till March 31, 2021.
The UAE was suspended in March 2015 for multiple rule violations, lifted later that summer when its national federation signed a legal agreement that it would comply with FEI rules.
Now, flagrant disregard has resulted in a much stronger sanction. FEI president Ingmar de Vos said: “The decision to suspend the UAE National Federation was not taken lightly, but it reflects our commitment to good governance, integrity and horse welfare.
“Regrettably we were forced to suspend the UAE Federation in 2015 following an investigation into endurance horse welfare issues and non-compliance with FEI Rules and Regulations. It is extremely disheartening that we are tackling similar issues in 2020 and that we have had to revert to the suspension of the National Federation. However, the UAE National Federation’s clear intent to avoid the application of the new [endurance] Rules at the biggest events in their calendar was reflected in their actions around these two events and, as a community, we cannot allow individual NFs to apply the rules only as and when it suits them.
“It is my sincere hope that this suspension will drive change within the Federation and give rise to a new era for endurance in the UAE equestrian community.”
The UAE is the only national federation in the history of the FEI to be suspended for non-compliance with sport and welfare rules.
The FEI Board commissioned a formal investigation into two major rides in January and February 2020 that should have been held as International Endurance Events (CEIs.) The number of foreign athletes “far exceeded” the quota permitted for National Events which allows a maximum of four national federations and/or no more than 15 foreign athletes aside from “athletes living outside their country of nationality.”
Ninety-three foreign athletes from 24 different countries participated in the Sheikh Mohammed Cup at the Dubai ruler’s venue in Dubai International Endurance City, and 88 from 21 countries in the President’s Cup at the UAE deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mansour’s venue, Al Wathba in Abu Dhabi.
Violations at the Sheikh Mohammed Cup were deemed intentional, and at the President’s Cup “at the very least negligent.”
The FEI Board concluded that the UAE intended to avoid applying the new FEI Endurance Rules. During 2019, the UAE had actively lobbied against these rules, though in November the FEI General Assembly approved them in a landslide vote.
Likely non-compliance was anticipated by campaigners for change. Pauline van Drumpt of Clean Endurance said: “Clean Endurance has been challenging the issue of the UAE NF purposely escaping FEI oversight by reclassifying international Endurance competitions as National ones since 2015, and is therefore immensely relieved that the FEI has now found sufficient legal grounds to suspend the UAE for this behaviour.
“Clean Endurance documented numerous examples of horse abuse and fraud to the FEI on these ‘CEN’ rides, including on the most recent Al Maktoum Cup where in addition to the foreigners present on the start list, many horses were placed despite having heart rates of over the official limit of 64 bpm. This deprives horses of their mandatory rest periods and precludes them from being examined and treated if necessary by FEI Treatment Veterinarians.”
The ride organisers have also been fined 50% of the prize money for the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and 10% for the President’s Cup and are required to pay organising dues to the FEI, had the Events been CEIs. UAE must also pay the FEI’s legal fees.
The suspension means that any events (including national events) staged in the UAE over this period become “unsanctioned events” and any FEI athlete, horse or official participating is liable to six months ineligibility in accordance with Articles 113.4 and 155.7 of the FEI General Regulations. Foreign riders who usually flock to the UAE for its winter season would then put their chances of competing in the 2020 world championship – rescheduled to May 2021 – and the 2021 European endurance championship at risk. National federations have been separately advised of consequences for their own riders and will be supplied with guidelines shortly.
The UAE has 21 days to appeal the decision.