FEI backs judge at centre of Russian dressage controversy

  • The FEI has stood by its former chief dressage judge, Ghislain Fouarge, over the controversial high scores awarded in a key Olympic qualifier in Moscow.

    The Dutchman was at the centre of a storm over the surprise 82.24% grand prix score awarded to Russia’s Inessa Merkulova and Mister X, and the 76.78% awarded to her sister and runner-up, Marina Aframeeva with Vost (news, 3 March).

    The row escalated when a photograph (top) emerged of Mr Fouarge assisting Miss Merkulova during a clinic at her own yard, New Century Club, from 22-24 October 2015.

    The sisters had previous personal bests of 76.46% and 71.9% respectively.

    While Miss Merkulova — who jumped from world number 14 to eighth as a result of Moscow — was expected to qualify for Rio, Aframeeva’s scores from the last weekend of February have weakened the chances of individual Rio places for Belgium, Ireland, Poland and Portugal.

    An FEI spokesman told H&H it reviewed the controversy after receiving concerns from “a number of national federations” and concluded “the judging was consistent across the five judges”.

    The FEI also examined the codex that limits judge/rider involvement nine months before an Olympic Games or other major championship.  The clinic’s dates were “fully in accordance with the rules regarding both duration of training and timing prior to the Moscow event and dressage events at the Olympic Games,” said the spokesman.

    Mister X’s leap into the 80% strata is the largest in dressage history: Valegro, who holds the grand prix record of 87.46%, and Totilas both improved by smaller increments.

    Mr Fouarge, sitting at C, gave Mister X 82.6%. Two other judges, from Russia and Belarus, awarded higher marks.

    Mr Fouarge said the aftermath amounted to “character assassination”.

    “If I had been the only one who had the couple so high, then I would have understood the excitement, yes. But I was right in the middle,” he said.

    “Miss Merkulova rode great in Moscow. [The] horse was in contrast to previous rides, in which they already received high 70% points. He was no longer so tight in the neck, and everything that is evaluated in the grand prix twice, worked out great — piaffe, pirouettes.”

    Continued below…

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    The deadline for individuals to claim the remaining Rio places was 6 March. The run-up to London 2012 in dressage was similarly controversial, ending with a Court of Arbitration of Sport ruling that the FEI had not properly administered the appointment of non-partisan judges at a qualifier in Brazil.

    H&H 10 March 16

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