Concerns have been raised that rides of 120km and longer have been taking place as national events under less-strict UAE rules, while significant numbers of foreign riders have still been invited to take part. Pippa Cuckson investigates...
The FEI is reviewing a loophole that has enabled major UAE endurance rides to duck out of applying tough new FEI welfare and anti-cheating rules.
For most of the winter season, headlining 120km rides at Dubai International Endurance City (DIEC) and Al Wathba in Abu Dhabi, have run as CEN (national) events under less-strict UAE rules, while still inviting numerous foreign participants; 20-plus nationalities per CEN is the norm.
Ride organisers have escaped FEI sanctions as the serious distance of two-star 120km is classified as a “minor” event (CIM). It is thus exempt from limiting foreign participants, which otherwise applies when FEI member countries stage competitions under national rather than FEI rules. To date, only a minority of Emirati riders have renewed their FEI registrations.
The trend was criticised last month by Endurance GB welfare director Antonia Milner-Matthews, after four horse fatalities in a festival in which a young British rider took part. She said CENs with an “international flavour” breach the spirit of FEI general regulations and called for an FEI review. She also expressed “grave concerns” that such CENs did not attract welfare scrutiny, and encouraged riders to decline invitations.
The first running of a 160km ride outside FEI jurisdiction took place with the Sheikh Mohammed Endurance Cup at DIEC on 4 January, with 24 nationalities represented. This is a clear breach of CEN criteria as 160km rides are not CIMs.
Saturday’s (8 February) prestigious The President of UAE Endurance Cup 160km race also went ahead as a CEN, but with the 319 starters confined to Emiratis and foreign nationals permanently resident in the UAE.
The FEI told H&H it would make its own checks that CEN criteria were respected.
The maximum penalty for breaching CEN criteria is a fine equal to the prize money. The schedules for this year’s national rides have not been published, but in 2019 the prize money for the Sheikh Mohammed Endurance Cup was €2million, while the President of UAE Endurance Cup had a prize fund of €3.2 million.
A FEI spokesman said: “The FEI has reviewed the events that have been run as CENs in the UAE, and in particular the event on 4 January 2020, and is in ongoing communication with the UAE national federation on this.”
Asked why endurance competitions categorised as “minor” were more advanced in status compared with other FEI sports, the spokesman replied: “National federations and stakeholders with whom the FEI has signed a memorandum of understanding can propose changes to the general regulations. The FEI HQ/board can also propose changes to the regulations on its own initiative, and the categorisation of CIMs is something the FEI is looking at.”
Throughout consultation in 2019, the UAE lobbied the other 130 national federations to oppose the new FEI rules, though they were approved by 94-19 votes. FEI rules not enforced last Saturday included bans on harsh tack, vehicles on the track, unaccredited persons handling the horses, and minimum qualifications for horses and riders taking on this gruelling test.
The UAE federation never reveals the results of any dope-testing at CENs. It did, though, publish its own welfare code for the President’s Cup. This said that horses may not be “intimidated by any kind of electric shock device,” that it is “strictly forbidden to drag and pull horses by the tail to stimulate them to walk” or to “twitch the horse’s skin or grab his ear at any time during the ride.”
It also prohibited hitting horses with whips, reins, wire or plastic water bottles, and unauthorised assistance from the following motorcade or on the piste in the the last 2km. Anyone involved in “intimidation” would be “severely dealt with.”
Layla Abdul Aziz Al Redha (UAE) and Massa Tonbakji (Syria) finished first and second for the home Al Wathba Stables. Neither rider has yet renewed her FEI registration for 2020.
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