In an unprecedented move, the FEI has suspended the national federation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for an “indeterminate period” following an investigation into “major horse welfare issues” and “non-compliance with FEI rules and regulations” in endurance.
The decision was made unanimously by the FEI bureau — which was chaired by president Ingmar De Vos — and the suspension has been imposed immediately.
The suspension means the UAE national federation cannot attend or be represented at any session or meeting of any body of the FEI, may not organise any international events, and its members cannot participate in any international events.
However, UAE athletes — in disciplines other than endurance — will be able to compete under the FEI flag at international competitions.
“The decision to suspend a national federation is not something that is taken lightly and we only should do this if no other remedy can be found,” said the FEI president.
“Sadly this was the only option left, but we have to take our responsibility and must never be afraid of tackling major issues head-on. Where horse welfare is concerned the FEI has to show leadership and solve problems in a structural way without making any concessions.”
The announcement comes after a series of serious issues involving doping and injuries to horses during races in the region.
Endurance rules were strengthened last year in attempt to improve horse welfare in the sport following recommendations from the Endurance Strategic Planning Group.
The new measures include additional dope testing, injury surveillance and reporting, athlete penalties for equine injuries, and extended rest periods.
“We were confident that strict enforcement of the new rules implemented on 1 August 2014 following adoption of the recommendations from the Endurance Strategic Planning Group would be effective in reducing the numbers of catastrophic injuries and fatalities in the UAE, but regretfully this has not been the case,” Mr De Vos added.
“There have also been other major non-compliance issues, so in the end we had no other choice than taking this drastic measure to deal with an unacceptable situation.”
H&H has also reported on allegations that a number of UAE race results were “lifted” from previous FEI rides. At least 12 rides in recent UAE seasons have been discovered to have identical data to previous rides on the FEI database.
The FEI has requested the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit conduct a full investigation into allegations of fake events and the duplication of results at FEI endurance events in the UAE.
The FEI has stated that the UAE’s reinstatement to FEI membership is dependent on it signing an agreement where it “pledges to take such action as the FEI bureau deems necessary to assure the FEI and all stakeholders that the UAE federation is protecting the welfare of the horse and complying fully with the FEI rules and regulations.”
Equine welfare charities have welcomed the FEI’s decision.
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said: “In many ways this is a sad day. However the FEI’s drastic move to suspend the UAE federation is a reflection of the seriousness of the situation within endurance.
“The focus is now on the UAE to undergo a fundamental change in attitude towards equine welfare in order to compete without compromising the safety of the horse. World Horse Welfare is ready and willing to assist in any way we can to help the UAE Federation achieve this transformation.
“We hope that this action will be the end of a dark period in international endurance.”