Top showjumper misses out on Tokyo after horse registration dispute *H&H Plus*

  • A top showjumper will not be allowed to compete at the Tokyo Olympics owing to an alleged “administration error” in the registration of his horse.

    Israeli showjumper Daniel Bluman was on the country’s team that secured Olympic qualification and had been hoping to compete in Tokyo. But behind the scenes it was “recently” noticed Daniel’s mare, Gemma W, was registered under the incorrect nationality.

    Under FEI Olympic rules, horses must have been registered with the FEI as property of owners of the same nationality as the athlete by 15 January of the year of the Games.

    On 18 May Daniel contacted the FEI to request the database was updated but the FEI said changes could only be processed by the administering national federation – in Gemma’s case the Belgian federation, with which she was first registered. Daniel asked the federation to urgently update Gemma’s nationality, which it did, but did not change Gemma’s ownership – which appears as Blue Star Investments. According to Daniel, on 25 May the Belgian federation asked the FEI to backdate the mare’s change of nationality and Daniel alleges the FEI refused to, in a decision issued to the Belgian federation on 26 May. Daniel appealed the FEI decision to the FEI Tribunal on 2 June.

    Daniel told the Tribunal he became aware of an “administration error” – the FEI database showed Gemma W’s nationality as American. This should have been Israel; Daniel had always been Gemma W’s sole owner and the mare has no sporting links to the US.

    Daniel claimed the confusion around the mare’s nationality stemmed from his use of the pseudonym “Blue Star” when registering horses. He said Blue Star is not a company, holding group or syndicate, and the name “reflects his attachment to the Israeli flag”. On noticing the error he contacted US Equestrian and asked for the error to be corrected. But the FEI advised USEF that because this had not been changed before the deadline, Gemma could only compete with a US rider at Tokyo.

    The FEI submitted to the Tribunal that Daniel received a clear and valid decision on 19 April that Gemma would not be eligible to compete for Israel at the Games – and the rider should have appealed this decision within 21 days. The FEI said the rules are clear and do not conflict with each other, as Daniel claimed, and added that all national federations received reminders about the deadline. The FEI did not accept Daniel’s position that this was an administration error, and said Gemma’s nationality had appeared as American for almost four years.

    The FEI said Daniel’s claim that Blue Star Investments is a pseudonym is “not credible or consistent” with his conduct and dealings with his other horses. Gemma is not registered as “Blue Star” but “Blue Star Investments”, which is registered as a corporation on the FEI database. The FEI added that the rider’s theory is also “not credible” because his ownership of his horse Ladriano Z is split between Daniel, Blue Star Investments, and another stable – so Blue Star Investments is a different entity from Daniel. The rider is listed as one of two “authorised persons” for a company called Blue Star Equestrian LLC, registered in Florida, and the FEI claimed this “only adds to the confusion” about the Blue Star pseudonym and Blue Star Investments.

    The FEI referred to an article that refers to Daniel’s success being down to his supporters that either co-invest or co-own horses with him. Daniel was also quoted as saying: “There is Blue Star Investment, the original group we founded ourselves and that different people have been part of over the years and invested in. Everyone involved in this group has made profits, and that is something I’m very proud of.”

    The FEI said it must apply the rules in question “extremely strictly” and with “100% consistency”, adding that the rider is not the first person to miss the 15 January deadline. The FEI asked the Tribunal to declare the appeal invalid on the basis it was lodged after the deadline, or dismiss the appeal in its entirety.

    The Tribunal acknowledged that proper registration on the FEI database is paramount to the FEI because the FEI is not the entity responsible for inputting a horse’s nationality. This is the responsibility of the national federations and athletes. The FEI relies on its database to ensure the rules are complied with. The Tribunal agreed with the FEI that there was no conflict between the two rules and the intent of them is to create a “level playing field” as well as ensure equal and fair treatment among all national federations and athletes.

    The Tribunal took into account that Daniel had owned Gemma for over five years and never checked her ownership status on the FEI database until it was too late, and Daniel’s explanation of Blue Star Investments was “unclear to say the least”.

    The Tribunal ruled that the appeal was admissible but dismissed it, and the FEI decision was upheld.

    On 30 June, Daniel said he was “extremely disappointed” with the FEI.

    “I felt disrespected, treated as if I was a liar, deceitful, and wrong intended. I truly believe FEI and riders should work together for our sport. [It] certainly didn’t feel like that on my first experience with the FEI,” he said.

    “I want to thank everyone that supported me on the journey to Tokyo and I will be cheering for Team Israel.”

    An FEI spokesman told H&H the organisation “understands Daniel’s disappointment”.

    “It is unfortunate he missed the deadline to ensure his horse met the nationality requirements, despite the clear reminders issued by the FEI in advance of the deadline,” said a spokesman.

    “This rule is based on fairness and transparency and is not simply a formality. The rule does not provide for exceptions, and it must be applied consistently to all national federations, athletes and horses to ensure a level playing field.

    “Mr Bluman had a full right to be heard and all his legal rights were respected at all times. He was granted an expedited hearing before the FEI Tribunal and his request for provisional relief before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was also expedited. Mr Bluman’s request to CAS for provisional measures suspending the effect of the FEI Tribunal decision, was also dismissed on 30 June.”

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