The FEI is facing legal action from the organisers of the Global Champions League (GCL) over an “anti-competitive exclusivity clause”.
It was intended to boost prize money to around €20m (£15.6m) and organisers hailed it as a “showjumping revolution”.
Club owners would field “star strikers” and two riders from a squad of four would be selected to compete at each event.
However, a year later, the GCT — which is a series approved by the FEI — says the idea has not been addressed in a “timely manner” by horsesport’s governing body.
Now the GCL has filed a complaint with the Belgian Competition Authority, accusing the FEI of breaching European Union competition law.
However, the FEI argue that the rule was to safeguard the riders and competitions.
“Unsanctioned events are not subject to FEI regulations, and their organisers and participants are not accountable to the FEI for compliance with such regulations,” a spokesman told H&H.
“As a result, the FEI has no way of safeguarding the welfare of horses and athletes participating in such events, or of protecting the integrity of the events.”
The “unsanctioned events rule” does not prevent athletes or officials participating in unsanctioned events or owners entering their horses in unsanctioned events, but prevents simultaneous participation in both — by making an athlete, horse or official that participates in an unsanctioned event ineligible to participate in a sanctioned event for a specified period (six months).
However, the GCL argues that “given the year-round nature of world class competitive showjumping, the exclusivity clause effectively bans riders from taking part in non-FEI events”.
“It is with regret that the FEI has left us with no choice but to resort to legal action,” said GCT president Jan Tops.
“For over a year we have entered into discussions in good faith with the FEI. In the spirit of compromise, we agreed to make some changes which it appears were designed to protect the FEI’s Nations Cup. However, since then the FEI has refused to give us the go ahead and has caused us to postpone the launch at considerable expense.”
The GCT’s legal representative Jean Louis-Dupont added that the “exclusivity clause is a clear breach of EU competition law and is therefore illegal”.
“It stifles the ability to organise and market any events in competition to those run by the FEI itself,” he said.