Speaking at British Eventing’s annual general meeting, new BE chairman Sir William Aldous PC urged members to stop their infighting for the good of the sport and told them to look ahead to better days as Windsor will be replaced by another spring event.
Predictably, Windsor’s troubled finances were at the heart of the BE AGM, which took place last week. Sir William said that Board has now budgeted for a loss of £180,000 — £40,000 more than the figure released earlier this year — to take into account Windsor restoration, auditors’ and legal fees. The good news, he said, is that the Windsor downturn can be absorbed and BE is expecting to lose £20,000 in total this year, “which may, with good fortune, shrink to break even.”
But rather than dwelling on the bottom line, Sir William grasped the chance to heal the rift caused Windsor. “The recommendations of the accountants show that the correct financial safeguards were not in place,” he said. “I understand that [former BE chairman Mike Tucker] and the other members accept that proper safeguards should have been there and, in that respect, the board as such were collectively at fault. All right, the safeguards should have been there, but they are not the first board to have relied upon individuals rather than financial controls.”
His speech was very soothing and he reassured members that the BE Board is taking critical steps to prevent a new Windsor occurring. In an attempt to stop an ongoing petition to censure the Board, he also explained some of the circumstances which led to Mike Tucker’s resignation. He revealed that former Windsor director Jonathan Warr had sent an email to Tucker, who was then chairman of Windsor as well as BE, where he anticipated a somewhat bigger loss than initially forecast. According to Sir William, Warr asked Tucker to keep the information private at that stage, which Tucker did. As a result, Sir William said, the Board only became aware of the email after the event had taken place, which deprived them of a chance to take action and minimise the loss.
“A substantial number of the board felt let down and I understand that, at a heated board meeting chaired by Mike Tucker, he resigned,” Sir William explained. “As the board were never told about the worsening financial situation at Windsor, they had in my view good reason to feel let down when the facts emerged. In those circumstances I ask rhetorically: Were they wrong to accept Mike Tucker’s resignation ? Also, I can see no reason why they should take collective responsibility for the failure to be informed of the revised forecast.”
But Sir William was also quick to extend an olive branch to his predecessor.
“In defending the board, I have inevitably thrown a brick at Mike Tucker, a person who has worked tirelessly for BE with considerable success,” he said. “Without the activities of those who have been collecting the signatures [for the petition], I believe it would not have been necessary to have even lifted the brick. I understand that Mike Tucker accepts that his failure to inform the board was a serious failure of judgement. I agree. I suspect it occurred because he relied on his friends and because at the time he was very busy. I am certain that there was no dishonest or devious motive.”
Sir William also had comforting words for Warr, who, he said, “for many years has toiled for eventing. He feels let down and hurt at the way he has been treated. He told me of how what had happened had caused him and his family real pain. He feels he is owed an apology. I am not sure what British Eventing has done which would require an apology. However, I would like to heal his wounds and I hope that nobody will rub sand into them.”
Most of all, Sir William urged members to stop fighting among themselves. “Some of you have, I expect, come with stones to throw at somebody . Perhaps the board, perhaps Mike Tucker, perhaps Jonathan Warr, perhaps somebody else. Please put them back in your pockets. A direct hit may give you satisfaction but will not advance the cause of BE or eventing.”
After his speech, some members report, the AGM’s atmosphere became very positive. However, the mood somewhat changed after Sir William announced that Windsor would no longer run and would instead be replaced by another spring event.
Sir William said that the fixture committee had originally decided not to hold a spring fixture in 2006 and wait until 2007 to replace Windsor. But the Board thought that the sport needed a spring event from next year, so they overrode the committee and allocated the event to Tweseldown for 2006. This created some discontent among event organisers. While many agreed that having a spring fixture in 2006 was a good idea, they took issue with the Board’s decision to award it to Tweseldown rather than follow an application procedure. However, the Tweseldown event will be a one-off, as BE spokeswoman Winnie Murphy explains.
“There will be a three-day event at Tweseldown on the dates of Windsor in 2006,” she says. “That’s only for one year. After that, we will be putting it out to tender for other event organisers to run a two-star on a three-year basis from 2007 onwards.”
The Board also announced that fixture co-ordinator Paul Elliott had resigned.
Despite this hiccup, Sir William remains positive for the future. “I believe that the members have already put Windsor behind them,” he told HHO. “We are all looking forward. At the top end of the sport we intend to start favourites for the gold medals in 2008. 2012 may seem along way away but it will be the four and five year olds that are starting at novice level which will bring in the medals. I am sure that with the aid of our trainers led by Yogi Breisner we shall again be the favourites. At the other end we are looking forward to the Festival of intro and pre-novice finals and the three-day events for pre novice eventers.”