William Fox-Pitt: ‘I can’t support FEI clarification on flag rule’

William Fox-Pitt and the Eventing Riders Association (ERA) have spoken out over the FEI’s “clarification” of the flag rule, saying it does “not go far enough”.

The so-called “missing a flag” rule (549.2) has proved highly contentious in Britain since the re-worked regulation came into force this year.

The seven-point clarification (see in full at the end of the article) asks fence judges to “give the benefit of the doubt” to riders, states that knocking a flag does not entail an automatic penalty and goes into detail on how to use video evidence.

But FEI eventing rider representative William Fox-Pitt requested a further clarification be added and has said he “is unable to support” the statement sent out by the FEI.

The clarification he requested stated: “the shoulder or body of the horse is permitted to move or dislodge the flag, and the horse should be judged clear so long as it has jumped the correct side of the flag.”

On Monday, he wrote to the FEI eventing committee to say he understands its position regarding the clarifications of the rule.

“As I have repeatedly stated I do not feel that this deals with the central issue at stake and my additions, which are the result of extensive consultation with riders from around the world, have not been incorporated,” he said.

“Regrettably, as the rider representative I am unable to support the statement regarding the clarification.”

ERA chairman Bruce Haskell said the organisation accepts the sport must follow FEI procedure and that a full change to a FEI rule is not possible mid-way through a season.

“The additional guidelines are a positive initiative by the FEI eventing committee to address uncertainty for athletes, officials and wider stakeholders but in our opinion do not go far enough,” he said.

“The central issue remains as follows: the rule states that if any part of the body strays outside the line where the flag was originally positioned it should be penalised, therefore a horse who jumps the correct side of the flag but moves or dislodges it with the shoulder or pelvis is judged as not clear and is awarded 15 penalties.

“Despite the overwhelming majority of the eventing community sharing our view, we are all bound by a rule stating otherwise and today’s clarification does not change that.”

ERA is asking the FEI eventing committee to view the clarifications as a “good starting point towards a workable rule for 2020 and beyond”, but urges them to remain open to change in the short term for the benefit of the sport this year.

Bruce added ERA, William Fox-Pitt and chairman of the international rider working group Harry Meade have been “overwhelmed by a consistent response from riders, officials, national federations, organisers and other stakeholders”.

“The message is the same. The definition of “clear” in the current rule is not sufficient in line with what riders feel is appropriate,” he said.

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Top riders including Harry Meade, Flora Harris and Bill Levett raised concerns over how the rule was implemented at Belton in March.

Following this, some competitors at Bicton faced appeals before the final results were confirmed in the CCI3*-S.

Riders are worried the rule is bringing subjectivity into cross-country and that the way it is being applied is “not in the spirit of the sport”.

Elite rider and owner Kate Walls started a petition to the FEI last month, which garnered more than 4,000 signatures in a week.

But the FEI stated it cannot change a rule part-way through a season “unless there is a risk management impact”, which does not apply in this case.

FEI flag rule clarification

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