Calls for review of FEI blood rules after Olympic showjumper’s appeal *H&H Plus*

  • An interesting case brought before the FEI Tribunal has once again given rise to concerns that the current blood rules are not “fit for purpose”. H&H finds out more...

    New calls have been made for a review of the blood rules in showjumping over concerns they are not “fit for purpose”.

    The topic is under the spotlight again after Irish Olympian Billy Twomey lost his appeal against the FEI’s decision to eliminate him when blood was found on the flank of Lady Lou at the boot and bandage control check after his grand prix-winning round in Wellington, Florida, on 15 March.

    The ground jury eliminated Billy for veterinary reasons, namely blood on the mare’s left flank owing to the use of spurs.

    At an FEI Tribunal hearing Billy said there was no blood after they completed their jump-off, providing a still from a video as evidence, and said he believed the blood was the result of the mare’s bumping herself on leaving the arena. He disagreed he was eliminated for veterinary reasons, as there was no indication the decision was a veterinary matter, and the FEI officials’ report did not mention veterinary reasons, or identify any interaction with a vet.

    The FEI said the ground jury was clear that as the elimination was for veterinary reasons, there was no possibility of protest or appeal. Under FEI rules, field-of-play ground jury decisions, which are final, include decisions on elimination or disqualification for veterinary reasons.

    Billy believed the FEI blood protocol was not followed; he said when he was told blood could be seen, no pictures were taken at the time. He had been allowed to walk the mare off and 20 to 30 minutes after his round, the glove test was conducted. It was a hot day, and a vet confirmed the gloves could have induced the bleeding. The FEI said Billy could have lodged a protest within 30 minutes of being notified but did not. The FEI added it is riders’ responsibility to know the rules.

    The FEI jumping stewards manual states that a steward must inform the athlete if there is an issue with blood on the horse’s flank, take a photo of the affected area and of the spurs, and inform the chief steward. The chief steward will conduct a glove test, and inform the ground jury. Under FEI veterinary rules, stewards and official vets have the authority to examine horses, so the decision to eliminate for veterinary reasons does not require the “exclusive involvement” of a vet.

    The Tribunal ruled that as the appeal was against the ground jury decision in relation to elimination for veterinary reasons, the appeal was not admissible.

    Billy told H&H appealing was important to him as in his view, the blood rules need “further thought” and changes to form and implementation, if they are to serve their intended function.

    “I do not doubt the correctness of the principle behind the rules, where the welfare of horses in our sport is mine and my fellow riders’ and owners’ foremost consideration. But I question the utility of the rule in its current form and the manner in which it is implemented,” he said.

    Billy added “inevitably” there would be occasions of marks caused by spurs in jumping.

    “We are jumping 1.60m tracks and managing our own weight and the movement of the horse. In the case of Lady Lou, the mark on her flank was a superficial graze no bigger than a fingernail, and it occurred after my round when I was leaving the ring. The FEI did not conduct any veterinary examination and Lady Lou was always in fine health,” he said.

    “Unless spurs are to be outlawed, the outcome of their use has to be addressed in a more considered manner. My jump-off was perhaps 40 seconds in duration. The FEI examined Lady Lou before I started both rounds. There was no question raised about whether she was fit to start. No one suggested any modifications to my tack or spurs. No one considered I rode inappropriately.

    “If riders and owners are to lose competitions in which they were permitted to start, surely a more considered approach is required for the regulations to be fit for purpose.”

    An FEI spokesman told H&H the FEI has a duty, which it “does not take lightly”, to establish appropriate rules and guidelines to ensure horse welfare. He said rules relating to blood are discipline-specific, adding amendments to rules to “enhance harmonisation” across disciplines were voted through the 2017 FEI general assembly.

    Prior to 2018, blood found on a horse in jumping resulted in disqualification. Under the amended rules since January 2018, there are two separate provisions. If blood is found on a flank it means elimination, but if marks indicate excessive use of spurs (or whip) the combination will be disqualified.

    “The rules and protocols are continuously assessed and, where necessary, updated to ensure our rules on tack are fit for purpose, and new research is factored into that,” said the spokesman.

    Appropriate sanctions

    A spokesman for the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC), which raised concerns about the blood rules in 2017 and called for officials to be able to use discretion when dealing with cases (news, 16 February 2017), told H&H the IJRC believes blood cases must be sanctioned but there should be different kinds of sanctions for whether it was an accidental or minor or major violation.

    “Currently this is not taken into account, leading to sanctions which are not proportionate to the violation,” he said. “Without wishing to enter into the merits of Billy Twomey’s case, we must reiterate that the norm is flawed and should be reviewed in order to better respect the principle of rights recognised, among others, by the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS]. These include the proportionality of sanctions, voluntary or involuntary infractions leading to aggravating or mitigating circumstances, and whether or not it was a first offence, as well the need to provide an accurate consideration of the implied consequences – just as in an ordinary courtroom.

    “Not considering these principles in sporting law creates sentences that are sometimes regarded by athletes, managers and the public as the result of a sporting injustice.”

    Billy had 21 days from the Tribunal’s decision on 18 June to appeal the decision to CAS. A CAS spokesman told H&H it had not received an appeal.

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