Pressure to void Tokyo places after qualification questions *H&H Plus*

  • The FEI says it is investigating after some riders have risen a number of places on the ranking lists after competing at shows which had very few competitors

    The FEI is under pressure to void Olympic jumping places secured at last-minute tours that had invited handsful of riders.

    Some classes last month at Villeneuve-Loubet in France and Damascus, Syria, involved just five riders, one of whom won rankings points with a 28-fault round.

     Mathilda Karlsson (Sri Lanka), Ahmad Hamcho (Syria) and Ibrahim Bisharat (Jordan) shot up their respective Olympic qualifying group leaderboards last month, displacing Hong Kong and UAE, which had looked set for Tokyo following consistent performances up to five-star level.

    Olympic rankings points run alongside Longines world ranking points. The two top nations per geographical group can send individuals to the Games.

    The International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) has had complaints that these shows were unfair. The FEI is investigating but declined to give details.

    The Olympic qualifying deadline has passed (31 December) but IJRC director Eleonora Ottaviani feels the ranking formula could be exposed to “skulduggery”, and requested an urgent meeting with the FEI; from 4 February, a new system automatically generates invitations in world ranking order.

    Two Villeneuve-Loubet riders rose over 400 places at its December shows. Villeneuve had shows throughout January, so far mostly contested by the same handful of riders.

    Villenueve-Loubet and Damascus were late additions to the calendar, but have not breached scheduling rules. But the only other venue ever to limit participation significantly at Olympic qualifiers was Baku in 2011. At the time the FEI voided some results, alleging they were “manipulated” to qualify Azerbaijan for London 2012.

    In European two-star CSIs, 100 starters and invitations to all 137 national federations are the norm. For its three December two-star shows, Villeneuve-Loubet invited a maximum of 20 riders, excluding Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland. Mathilda achieved nine of her 15 counting results there, before which she had been seventh in Group G.

    Mathilda said she had planned to jump her top horse Chopin VA at three- and five-star CSIs in December, but opted for Villenueve-Loubet after he had a few weeks off with illness.

    “I have not knowingly done something wrong, and it’s sad I get targeted by people who doubt I deserve my spot,” she said.

    At Damascus, Ahmad achieved seven and Ibrahim 13 counting results in qualifying group F. Damascus “invited” 80 Syrian riders, about 50 more than Syria has, and 20 from countries as far as Argentina or likely to avoid Syria on foreign office advice. One show ran on Christmas Day.

    No FEI scheduling rules were broken, and Villeneuve-Loubet secretary Cristelle Caiulo told H&H it could invite who it wished, and did not want past entrants who caused issues with late entries. Asked to explain its limit on invitations or why extra ranking classes were added after entries closed, she replied: “Are you joking?”

    The IJRC owns the FEI Longines ranking list formula, on which the Olympic rankings are based, but Ms Ottaviani said responsibility for fairness lay with the FEI, organisers and officials.

    “It is not only a question of the rules, but of being certain there are no anomalies or that it’s possible something not quite right has falsified the system.

    “The important thing is that an athlete or organisation acts not only by the rules, but also according to the principle of fair play. Reality has demonstrated that things haven’t worked out this way. It will be the responsibility of the ranking working group to find solutions so regulations leave no space for skulduggery or manipulation.”

    She urged anyone with suspicions to contact the integrity unit on 020 7935 5822 or report@equestrianintegrity.com.

    The position of group G leader, Chinese Taipei’s Jasmine Chen, is not affected by this dispute.

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