The FEI and Global Champions League (GCL) seem set for many more months — years, maybe — of public sparring.
GCL has spared no expense. It went to a Belgian court with form for ruling against exclusivity clauses in sport, and instructed lawyers who have been successful in a similar football case.
It also hired the prominent London public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, which is good at wrong-footing the FEI.
First, Bell Pottinger announced the appeal had failed, before the FEI — whose appeal it was — had even had chance to read the full decision notice.
Then last week it announced the FEI had given the “go-ahead.”
Media outlets using that blurb without query then had to backtrack swiftly; in a grudging bald statement of fact required by the court, the FEI conceded participants will not be penalised, but continues to fight GCL “by all legal means.”
Amid the tit-for-tat, it’s easy to forget why the FEI won’t approve GCL.
GCL says the FEI, as a sports regulator, is cynically protecting its questionable commercial interests, notably the Nations Cup.
But the FEI says it can’t approve new series without seeing their rules.
GCL insists it has supplied them; FEI says it hasn’t, in any detail.
GCT has even invited the FEI to supervise the welfare aspects it seems worried about – hardly difficult when GCL is hosted by existing Global Champions Tour shows.
What worries me is the elephant in the room with little to do with the Global Champions machine. For now, the court decision is an interim one, and applies only to GCL. However, if the FEI’s authority is undermined long-term, it opens the possibility for unauthorised anything – notably unregulated endurance.
I put this to GCL. They emphasised GCL is only challenging the FEI’s exclusivity rules to the extent they apply to competitions that agree to comply with FEI horse welfare and anti-doping rules.
Is GCL really that ingenuous? From numerous rule violations caught on camera in the first month alone of the new UAE endurance season, at least one legally-binding agreement to uphold horse welfare isn’t worth the paper it’s written on!
Ref: Horse & Hound; 10 December 2015