The decision by the FEI to suspend activites within the UAE across all FEI disciplines in response to rule-breaking in endurance is under the spotlight as lawyers describe the decision as “unprecedented” and appeals are prepared. H&H speaks to lawyers in Europe and Abu Dhabi, as well as a Dubai-based showjumper, about the situation...
ARABIC and European lawyers are taking and considering action against the FEI’s suspension of the UAE federation, describing the decision as “killing the sport”.
H&H reported on 1 October that the FEI had fully suspended all activities across any FEI discipline until 31 December, and all national endurance activities until 31 March 2021. This move was a result of an investigation into two major endurance rides run as national events at the start of this year.
Lawyers and members of the equestrian community in the UAE have asked why other disciplines should suffer for endurance’s mistakes, and the UAE federation has said it will appeal the decision.
Maisa AlSaidi, managing director of Abu Dhabi-based Equine Legal Consultancy, told H&H the FEI’s decision is “unprecedented”.
“It has suspended activities in all disciplines, although the disputed violations are specific to endurance,” she said, adding that the decision was announced the day before the UAE showjumping season was due to start.
“The impact of this decision has been far-reaching; it has harmed all components of the UAE equestrian community. The UAE organises world-class equestrian events in all disciplines and has attracted equestrians from all over the world.
“The composition of the UAE equestrian population is unique due to the nature of UAE society, which has a high number of ex-pats. There are very successful and talented UAE riders in addition to a large number of international riders, who compete in the UAE’s national and international competitions in showjumping, dressage and other disciplines. This has resulted in a well-developed market of riders, horse owners, breeders, national and international service providers.”
Ms AlSaidi said her firm wrote to FEI president Ingmar De Vos on 30 September, on behalf of some 50 members of the UAE equestrian community affected by the decision, to draw the FEI’s attention to the “severe implications” of its decision.
“Reality is far beyond expectations,” she said, adding that she has seen junior showjumpers, some in their final year of youth competition, crying.
“I have talked to international showjumpers who had shipped their horses, preparing for the season, and were devastated by the decision, describing it as ‘killing the sport’,” she said.
“UAE owners cannot have their horses compete in any country, which will affect the wellbeing of their horses. National and international service providers in the UAE who make their profits when a season starts are affected, without being party to the dispute.
“The spine of this sport is the riders and the horses. Disputes between the FEI and national federations should not penalise equestrians and horses, especially when these equestrians are not the subject of the dispute. We should in fact do whatever it takes to protect them and keep the sport at the level it deserves.”
Piotr Wawrzyniak is a lawyer with Dutch firm Schelstraete, which has been working within the equestrian industry for decades, and which posted on social media asking for riders affected by the suspension to get in touch.
He told H&H the firm is in contact with the UAE federation’s counsel, and any appeals lodged will be discussed and co-ordinated with the federation.
“Recently, many people we know in the business have been asking about the situation with the UAE and the FEI,” he said. “The stories we hear are very sad.”
Mr Wawrzyniak pointed out that the coronavirus had severely affected equestrian events across the world, and that the FEI itself has reported major losses as a result.
“What about all the athletes, companies and people providing services to the equine businesses in and from the UAE?” he asked. “Our interest is to help all those who are affected by the FEI’s decision and obviously to support the appeal – that if we understand correctly – shall be lodged by the UAE federation.
“Obviously, there might be legitimate grounds for the FEI to take action but the FEI should also take into account the interest of those who have not been involved in any wrongdoings and there are lots of them.
“At this moment all these people are anonymous and we are not talking only about UAE citizens but also many other people who cooperate with the UAE, such as non-UAE riders competing UAE-registered horses. Currently they are facing a very difficult situation. We think their voice needs to be heard, too.”
Mr Wawrzyniak said his firm believes the appeal can be based on an area of Swiss law.
Dubai-based saddler and showjumper Anita Sande told H&H: “We’ve got nothing.
“The federation is the only Middle East one that really supports the sport, which is why I can afford to be here; the federation really tries to do things right.
“It’s nothing new that endurance is a problem but showjumping has never done anything wrong so it’s not fair.
“This is very, very bad. We have a season from October to April and everyone in the industry lives from that. I can’t understand how the FEI can do this.”
An FEI spokesman told H&H: “The FEI president sent a detailed response to the Equine Consultancy letter on 2 October. We are aware that the UAE federation and potentially other parties intend to appeal the FEI board decision, therefore as legal proceedings are anticipated this is an ongoing legal case and we are unable to comment further at this time.”
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