French rider Barbara Lissarague, together with the Organising Committee of the World Endurance Championship and the Fédération Française d’Equitation, has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the FEI’s decision to uphold Sheikh Hazza Bin Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the winner of the World Endurance Championship.

Lissarague finished second behind Sheikh Hazza at the championship, which took place in Dubai on 27 January, but the organising committee awarded her the gold medal at the award ceremony two days later, after claims that the Sheikh’s horse, Hachim, had tested positive for a banned substance.

This unprecedented decision violated the FEI rules, which only strip riders of their medal if they are found guilty by the FEI Judicial Committee at the end of a lengthy process where they have a chance to state their position and request a counter-test. The FEI immediately clarified that the official committee did not have the right to disqualify Sheikh Hazza and upheld the official results signed off by the ground jury, which saw the Sheikh as the championship winner.

Following this Sheikh Hazza asked for a counter test, which was carried out at the Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques, in France, on 24 March 2005 and confirmed the presence of Methylprednisolone in Hachim’s urine. However, the Sheikh, who had specifically asked to either be present or have a representative at the lab, was not told of where and when the test would take place and so was unable to send a witness. As a result of this irregularity, the FEI’s Judicial Committee decided that his rights had been compromised to such an extent that “the results of the B-sample analysis, and therefore the entire urine test, should be disregarded.”

Their ruling, which was based on prior verdicts by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, dismissed the medication case against Sheikh Hazza and confirmed him as the winner of the FEI World Endurance Championship, with Lissarague as a runner up and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in third place.

On Monday 30 May, Lissarague, her federation and the Dubai organising committee notified the FEI of their decision to lodge a joint appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The matter will now be judged by a panel of three arbitrators, one of whom will be appointed by the appellants, another by the FEI, while the third, who will preside the panel, will be chosen directly by the President of CAS’ Appeals Division. The FEI will have to file a response to the appeal, after which the President of the Panel will arrange a hearing, where witnesses and experts will have their say.

“We will wait for the Court to give us a date for the hearing,” says FEI spokeswoman Muriel Faienza. “Once we have a date, we will publish it, but it may take some time. In the [Ludger] Beerbaum case, it took them two months.”

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee and the Beijing Olympics Organising Committee are looking into the venue for the equestrian Olympics of 2008. Earlier in the year, the Beijing organising committee admitted having underestimated the veterinary issue of temporarily importing competition horses into China and proposed Hong Kong as an alternative venue for the equestrian events.

“That equine diseases exist in [China] is a fact. If we don’t welcome other places hosting the event, we will be taking a very big risk,” executive member of the IOC and Chinese Olympic Committee vice-chairman, Yu Zaiqing told The Standard, a Hong Kong-based business newspaper, last Wednesday. However, both national federations and riders associations have said they would strongly prefer the equestrian events to remain in Beijing.

The FEI Executive Board, which met on Wednesday, “reiterated the importance of concentrating all efforts” to ensure the equestrian Olympics are staged in Beijing. “We are all resolutely behind keeping our sport at the heart of the Beijing Olympics,” said FEI President, The Infanta Doña Pilar de Borbón. “The IOC and BOCOG have received comprehensive documentation to support our position. They are now studying our case and we sincerely hope, and will continue to work hard, for a positive outcome. We expect a decision will be finally made by the beginning of July.”