Olympic gold medallist Rodrigo Pessoa is suing the organisers of last year’s Las Vegas World International (LVWI) on behalf of disgruntled show jumpers still awaiting prize-money.

The riders, including the UK’s Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton, plus officials and contractors, also face bank charges after cheques issued at the show bounced.

The LVWI (14-15 October) offered US$1 million prize-money, and was touted at the time to be the “world’s richest” show.

“We’ve talked and talked with the organisers, but there comes a point when talking isn’t enough and we all need to be paid for what we did,” Rodrigo told H&H. “We are trying to collect on behalf of everyone who is owed money.”

As a result of the debacle, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) is to set a criteria for permitting new shows to enter the calendar.

“We’re in a difficult position — if we say these shows can’t run, the riders may be deprived of good prize-money, but if we give them the go-ahead without clear control the same thing could happen again,” said FEI sports director Michael Stone. “We’re looking at asking for prize-money to be lodged with us in advance.”

Mr Stone said the FEI was also considering asking new shows to run at a lower level for the first few years, to prove they can be successful.

“This is also difficult,” he said. “Princess Haya wanted to run a top-level show in Dubai [this January], and if we’d said she had to run a smaller one first she might not have done so and riders would have missed out.”

Mr Stone said the FEI jumping committee would be discussing the criteria at a meeting in Aachen in May.

“There are technical issues to be discussed as well — we want to make provision for things such as ground conditions,” he said. “This is a good opportunity to look at the whole thing.”

LVWI has courted controversy since October, with the organisers locked in a chaotic battle with investors for control of the fixture. As well as British riders, event manager Simon Brooks-Ward and his company, HorsePower International, are still waiting to be paid.

“We’re looking at filing an independent lawsuit, but might join forces with Rodrigo. We’re taking advice on whether it’s worthwhile,” said Simon, adding: “We’re owed a significant amount for our business and we’re keen to recover it.”

Michael Whitaker won about US$120,000 (£69,400) at the show. “It’s surprising because it’s so much money,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a domestic show, but to go all that way just for one show and win all that prize-money, then not get it — it’s really frustrating.”

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (23 March ’06)
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