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All equestrian competition suspended in UAE after ‘clear intent’ to avoid new rules

The FEI has suspended the United Arab Emirates (UAE) national federation following a “clear intent to avoid the application of the new rules” at two major endurance fixtures this year.

This is the second time in five years the UAE has been suspended by the FEI; the 2015 case related to an investigation into endurance horse welfare issues and non-compliance with FEI rules.

The current suspension, announced today (25 September), follows a “detailed investigation” into the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and the President’s Cup in January and February 2020.

It is a full suspension of all activities across any FEI discipline, plus a further suspension for national endurance activity and a hefty fine topping CHF 1.5 million (£1.26 million).

The FEI states these “should have been held as international endurance events (CEIs) as the number of foreign athletes far exceeded the quota permitted for national events”.

FEI rules state that national events (CENs) must be limited to no more than four national federations and/or more than 15 foreign athletes, other than those living outside their country of nationality.

The investigation found 93 foreign athletes from 24 different national federations took part in the Sheikh Mohammed Cup, with 88 foreign athletes from 21 different federations competing in the President’s Cup.

“The decision to suspend the UAE national federation was not taken lightly, but it reflects our commitment to good governance, integrity and horse welfare”, said FEI president Ingmar De Vos.

“Regrettably we were forced to suspend the UAE federation in 2015 following an investigation into endurance horse welfare issues and non-compliance with FEI rules and regulations.

“It is extremely disheartening that we are tackling similar issues in 2020 and that we have had to revert to the suspension of the national federation [NF].

“However, the UAE national federation’s clear intent to avoid the application of the new rules at the biggest events in their calendar was reflected in their actions around these two events and, as a community, we cannot allow individual NFs to apply the rules only as and when it suits them.

“It is my sincere hope that this suspension will drive change within the federation and give rise to a new era for endurance in the UAE equestrian community.”

The FEI board met via videoconference on 16 September to hear presentations from legal firm Bird & Bird and the UAE’s legal representatives and the decision was formally notified to the UAE yesterday (24 September).

The board concluded that the UAE’s national federation had violated FEI rules.

“In the case of the Sheikh Mohammed Cup, the violations were deemed intentional, and in the case of the President’s Cup, the violations were considered at the very least negligent,” said an FEI spokesman.

“The board also concluded that the reason for re-classifying the events as CENs was to avoid the application of the new FEI endurance rules that were scheduled to take effect as of 1 January 2020.”

In 2019, the FEI endurance rules underwent a major overhaul to better protect horse welfare and the integrity of the sport, among other reasons. These were presented on and discussed in depth at the 2019 FEI Sports Forum before final adjustments were made over the summer and they were approved at the 2019 FEI General Assembly in November, to come into force on 1 January.

The FEI spokesman added that given the “serious nature of the rule violations, the FEI board unanimously agreed a significant sanction was required”.

The UAE national federation has been handed a full suspension of all activities — including national events — across all FEI disciplines until 31 December 2020, plus a suspension of national endurance activities until 31 March 2021.

The suspension also affects any events in the UAE which become “unsanctioned events” and any FEI athlete, horse or official participating will be liable to a period of ineligibility of up to six months.

The board also told organisers to pay 50% of prize money for the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and 10% for the President’s Cup, plus organising dues that would have been payable to the FEI had the events been run as CEIs.

The national federation has also been told to pay the FEI’s legal fees, and suspensions will remain in place “until all financial sanctions have been paid in full to the FEI”.

The UAE national federation has 21 days to appeal the decision to the FEI Tribunal.

An FEI spokesman told H&H the fine payable by the 2020 Sheikh Mohammed Cup’s organising committee comes to CHF 1,059,768 (£892,160), plus the organising dues. The fine payable for the organising committee of the 2020 President’s Cup is CHF 493,117 (£415,128), which includes the monetary value of non-cash prizes, plus the organising dues.

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What rules did the UAE break at the two events?

The specific rules the FEI claims the UAE national federation broke are articles 101, 109.2 and 100.7.2 of the FEI general regulations and Article 2.8 of the FEI statutes.

These are:

  • Article 2.8 of the FEI statutes states:
    It is a condition of membership that national federations comply with, and are bound by the FEI rules and regulations including but not limited to the statutes, general regulations [GRs], sport rules (which include the FEI human and equine anti-doping rules) and any decision issued by the authorised bodies of the FEI in relation to the conduct of international equestrian events, all of which shall also bind organising committees [OCs], officials, horse owners, persons responsible, athletes, team officials and other individuals and bodies involved in FEI events.In addition, by virtue of accepting an accreditation to an FEI event, such person agrees to be bound by the FEI rules and regulations. National federations are granted an exclusive license to use, modify, print and distribute as appropriate the documents referred to in this article, which are FEI property, for the purpose of regulating equestrian sport within their national territory.
  • Article 100.7.2 of the FEI general regulations states:
    To ensure that all clubs and societies affiliated to NFs and all OCs abide by the GRs and sport rules when organising international events or competitions.
  • Article 101.1 of the FEI general regulations states:
    A national event (CN) is limited to national athletes who shall take part according to the regulations of their NF. Foreign athletes may only take part, subject to the appropriate laws if applicable, as specified under paragraphs 2 and 3 below or under Article 119.
  • Article 101.3 of the FEI general regulations states:
    3.1 Not counting “athletes living outside their country of nationality” (Article 119.6), a CN with more than 4 NFs and/or more than fifteen (15) foreign athletes is allowed if it would be within the requirements of a CIM. If a CN under such conditions takes place, there will be no ranking or qualification points earned.
  • 3.2 Any other CN with more than four (4) NFs and/or more than fifteen (15) foreign athletes (not counting “athletes living outside their country of nationality” as per article 119.6) is not allowed [the foreign athlete quota]. If a CN under such conditions takes place, there will be no ranking or qualification points earned. Furthermore, after consultation with the NF, the OC can be subject to further sanctions and eventually to a fine in an amount commensurate with the violation and taking into account the circumstances of the violation and possibly up to the total prize-money paid out at such event, if any.
  • Article 109.2 of the FEI general regulations states:
    International competitions may never be held under national rules.

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