In Copenhagen last year I wrote that “battle lines were drawn” as FEI members prepared to cast their votes on reintroducing bute into horse sport.
This year I can’t think of a phrase more apt, because this afternoon we have heard from the three candidates for tomorrow’s presidential election.
Who will lead horse sport into the next decade, I wonder? Will it be Princess Haya, who has this afternoon been accused of ruling with an iron bar, not taking anyone’s opinions into account and not aligning herself to Europe?
Will it be Henk Rottinghuis, who today spoke of the “split” within the governing body of horse sport, of established federations that feel excluded, others that feel unable to speak out and others not given enough representation.
Henk also criticised the “unsustainable” spending the FEI has been doing of late thanks to “generous funding” — ie from the princess .
Or will it be Sven Holmberg, the current vice president who came in for some serious stick from Akaash Maharaj, CEO of the Canadian Equestrian Federation, for publicly opposing the president (Princess Haya) he was elected to serve.
Sven promises to listen to the grassroots in decision making and has learnt from his 30-odd years in the organisation of international sport.
One thing that sits very obviously and openly in Princess Haya’s favour — thanks to a question posed by Andrew Finding, head of the British Equestrian Federation — is the fact that she sits on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). And while she does so, horse sport is guaranteed its place in the Olympics.
Haya also promises to talk directly to governments about relaxing transportation and quarantine regulations, issues she believes are holding the development of horse sport back. How can Henk or Sven compete with that?
Perhaps by emphasising how afraid bureau members and staff have been to voice their own opinions in the past two years — as Sven told the delegates today.
Though the session was thrown open for questions from the floor, few contentious issues arose — aside from the opinion of Akaash Maharaj, that Sven Holmberg and second vice president Chris Hodson have committed the sin of campaigning against their president.
“In my opinion, Henk Rottinghuis did the honourable thing and resigned from the audit committee before announcing his intention to stand for presidency,” he told me.
“Under the rules of vice presidency [Sven Holmberg and Chris Hodson] are constitutionally aligned to aid the president. Working against her can only damage the FEI and the bureau.”
This, from a man who stood up yesterday and told the bureau what he thought of the way the whole NSAIDs saga was handled.
Akaash has been in office for three years, and prior to that he worked on the Arab/Israeli peace process — which he said is “not all that different” to working in horse sport.
“The problem is the FEI has had no practice of democracy, they’re afraid of it and people see elections as disruptive,” he said, adding: “Whoever emerges tomorrow will lead a stronger federation.”
The vote takes place just before lunch tomorrow — so approximately noon in Taipei (4am GMT). There will be two rounds. If no candidate secures more than two-thirds of the vote, the person with the least number of votes will be dropped from the race, and the last two will go head to head.