“Horses will die” is the warning from campaigners, in response to the World Endurance Championships’ move to the UAE. The event had been to run in Verona in October, but the FEI pulled the plug as horse and rider safety “could not be guaranteed”.
The FEI reopened bidding and six venues were in the mix, including Samorin, Slovakia, and Pisa, Italy, both of which have previously hosted the event. But it will run at Boudheib International Endurance Village (BIEV), in February.
The FEI said “the safety and security of human and equine athletes is the FEI’s top priority”, and a spokesman added: “Under the guidance and support of the late former deputy UAE prime minister HH Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Boudheib protocol initiative was implemented in BIEV and other venues to ensure that the welfare of the horses and horsemanship prevail.”
But Sheikh Sultan, driver of the horse welfare-led initiative, died three years ago.
“Clean Endurance had high hopes the FEI would attribute the championships to a venue that not only more closely resembles the terrain and conditions the horses have been prepared for, but also lacks the negative associations in terms of horse welfare and rule infringements the UAE has been known and suspended for in the recent past,” a spokesman for campaign group Clean Endurance told H&H. “The fact the FEI mentions the, to our knowledge, long-defunct Boudheib initiative, and states that the competition will benefit from forestry tracks, fringes on disingenuous in our opinion. Equestrian sports have a lot of work to do to maintain their social licence, and we believe this decision is counterproductive in that regard.”
The spokesman said that after all the efforts made to clean up endurance “we’ve gone back 10-15 years”, and the campaigners cannot understand why the UAE was chosen.
“I don’t think there’s much we can do now as the Boudhieb thing is something people know about, but we’ll be keeping an eye out, and watching the live stream. But for sure, horses will die and be injured. No doubt.”
FEI president Ingmar de Vos said the federation was “very pleased with the decision”.
“The FEI board was impressed with the world-class permanent infrastructure and facilities offered by the BIEV and the proven ability of the organisers to guarantee all the logistical organisation for our human and equine athletes in a short period of time,” he said.
“The safety and security of human and equine athletes is the FEI’s top priority, and the organiser’s track record of commitment to horse welfare was a key factor. We are confident the organisers will [run] a championship to remember and that the venue will deliver on all its promises.”
The spokesman told H&H: “The FEI board was well aware of previous issues with the discipline in the UAE, but also noted that those issues did not involve the BIEV and that previous sanctions imposed had been served. Therefore, the FEI is confident that with the procedures and protocols now contained in the FEI endurance rules, horse welfare will be safeguarded during the entire staging of the event.”
An Endurance GB spokesman told H&H its board was disappointed by the decision to remove the event from Verona but understands the reasons.
“The FEI have emphasised that in reaching their decision, the safety and security of human and equine athletes was considered paramount,” she said. “They have highlighted the fact that the organisers have a track record of commitment to horse welfare and outstanding facilities to back it up.
“Endurance GB recognises that the FEI now has a burden of responsibility to ensure delivery of a world-class championship event, with absolutely no compromise on horse welfare or fairness. With this expectation, the board supports their choice, based on these parameters.”
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