Shows stripped of ranking points after FEI makes blunders *H&H Plus*

  • The decision by the FEI means Hong Kong’s Kenneth Chen has had his individual Olympic place reinstated, while Sri Lanka’s Mathilda Karlsson loses out, while two other riders retain their Tokyo qualifications

    Two jumping tours in December and January have been sensationally stripped of Olympics and Longines world rankings points after the FEI admitted some show schedules were mistakenly approved.

    The decision means that Sri Lanka’s Mathilda Karlsson loses her individual place at Tokyo; it has been restored to the original contender, Hong Kong’s Kenneth Chen.

    H&H reported that multiple December fixtures at Villeneuve-Loubet, France, and Damascus, Syria, included Olympic and Longines world rankings points classes with entries confined to a tiny handful of riders.

     In January, Villeneuve staged further shows with drastically limited invitations. Several riders significantly improved their Longines world rankings before the launch of the new FEI merit-based CSI invitation system on 3 February.The FEI ordered an investigation and on Monday (17 February) announced that, contrary to the FEI general regulations, two competitions counting for the Olympic and Longines rankings were added at six shows during December and January at Villeneuve-Loubet, after definite entries deadlines. The updated schedules were submitted by the French national federation and “mistakenly approved” by the FEI.

    Prize money irregularity

    Investigators decided shows in Damascus between October and December did not breach entries regulations, but there was “irregularity” involving excess prize money at three shows also “erroneously approved” by the FEI. One competition per show has been annulled to bring prize money within the specified limit. This means Syria’s Ahmad Hamcho and Jordan’s Ibrahim Bisharat retain their Olympic tickets.

    Days earlier, world number one Steve Guerdat had called for the annulment of these rankings points, claiming he alerted a “FEI representative” to concerns back in December, but the fixtures continued to run.

    Before Monday’s decision, Guerdat said: “The FEI needs to take their responsibility. They have approved the schedules for these events.

    “The FEI general regulations clearly state that athletes should be competing against each other under fair and equal conditions. This has not been the case at these events. Should a grand prix with five riders competing really be counting for the world ranking and the Olympic ranking?”

    International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) director Eleonora Ottaviani wants an urgent review of the formula, saying these incidents highlighted the rankings’ vulnerability to “skulduggery.”

    Last week, the FEI announced that jumping director John Roche will retire at the end of February. Capt Roche, 65, had been understood to be retiring after the 2020 Olympics. The FEI declined to comment on whether this was connected to the rankings dispute. A FEI spokesman told H&H discussions about restructuring his department started last year, owing to its heavy workload.

    Until a successor is appointed, FEI secretary-general Sabrina Ibáñez will oversee jumping’s day-to-day business. Capt Roche’s deputy, Deborah Riplinger, also due to retire in August, will remain till the end of 2020. Two new positions are being recruited, department manager and manager of officials, to support the director’s revised role.

    Villeneuve-Loubet owner Andre Herck — who spoke to H&H before Monday’s announcement — insisted that his shows did not break any rules. Since buying the venue with debts of over €1m (£833,000) in 2008 he has felt unfairly treated by the French jumping community.

    He says full ranking points have been awarded at other under-subscribed venues; critics had not noticed such scheduling was achievable under the FEI’s “stupid” rules. He said: “In all activities, if you respect the rules perfectly, everybody has to say ‘congratulations, you found a hole,’ and not just try to create trouble because they are not happy that somebody has been clever.”

    A key flaw in the rankings formula is that points are awarded down to 16th place irrespective of the number of starters. Kevin Staut, IJRC president, has asked for an urgent meeting with the FEI to review the formula. H&H has been unable to establish if any amendments can apply immediately or will have to wait to 2021.

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