Changes to Olympic places as court rules on FEI mistakes *H&H Plus*

  • The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled on a sensational case involving shows, ranking points and Olympic places. H&H fids out more, and speaks to lawyers for those involved

    A RIDER has regained her Olympic showjumping slot in the latest twist of an incredible saga concerning shows and points.

    The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has upheld the appeal of Sri Lankan Mathilda Karlsson, the Sri Lankan federation and Romanian showjumper Andrea Herck against the FEI’s decision to annul results from shows at Villeneuve-Loubet, France, between December 2019 and January 2020.

    H&H has reported widely on the fiasco; classes were added to the event schedules after the definite entry deadline, and the additions approved by the FEI and the French federation. Some of the shows included Olympic and Longines world rankings points classes with entries confined to a handful of riders.

    The FEI investigated and found the updated schedules were “mistakenly approved”. Their results’ annulment meant Ms Karlsson lost points and dropped out of Olympic qualifying. Her appeal was dismissed by the FEI Tribunal but has now been upheld by CAS.

    Rankings have now been recalculated and Sri Lanka regains its individual place for Tokyo. Hong Kong, which had been allocated the slot for jumping after the annulment, is now the first reserve in Group G for Tokyo.

    In its ruling, the CAS panel noted that the “protection of the integrity of FEI’s events and competitions will be much more effective if they may also be cancelled retroactively, because, in many cases, the circumstances giving rise to integrity or ethical issues (such as betting, bribery or match fixing) will only become known through information that transpires as late as during or after the event”.

    The panel confirmed the FEI has the power to remove events retrospectively, but that its rules do not allow the federation to “retroactively rectify mistakes which entirely stem from its own sphere”, referring to “human error” at the FEI that had led to approval of the updated schedules.

    The panel found that as the FEI had failed to establish “justified circumstances” for the removal of the competitions, the prerequisites of the relevant rule were not fulfilled so the FEI decision, and the decision of the FEI Tribunal, are unlawful and must be reversed.

    “This is a very disappointing result, but we respect the decision as we knew mistakes were made and the CAS decision is based on that,” FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez said. “When we decided to annul the Villeneuve-Loubet results to do the right thing from a sports integrity perspective, we knew there was a possibility we could lose this case on appeal, but agreed it was a risk worth taking.

    “We have been proactive in addressing the issues and in February 2020 implemented the online invitation system for FEI jumping events that introduced a quota system for CSI2*, but the rules were not in effect at the time of the events in question.

    “In addition, organisers of CSI2* events that wish to include competitions counting for the Longines Rankings must now invite a minimum of 50 athletes and the FEI is also reviewing the scale of Olympic ranking points based on the number of participants in competitions.”

    British Olympic dressage rider Richard Davison, who has previously spoken of his concerns over the FEI Tribunal system (news, 15 October 2020) told H&H the FEI’s actions, and the decision of the FEI Tribunal, had “always seemed wrong to me”.

    He added: “A regulatory governing body that admits to a lack of diligence should not impose punitive sanctions on the athletes affected by the consequence of such errors. The standard of remedy for the athletes should be the same as in any civil law procedure and this is what the CAS decision has achieved.”

    Ms Karlsson’s representatives, Mr Luc Schelstraete and Mr Piotr Wawrzyniak of the Dutch Schelstraete Law Firm, observed that the FEI cannot hold other parties responsible for its own errors, and that riders cannot be expected to suspect mistakes in schedules approved by the national and international federations.

    The lawyers said: “This is a landmark decision for equestrian sports as it illustrates that the FEI’s discretionary powers are limited, and that the FEI needs to observe utmost care in approving equestrian events where ranking points are to be earned. All this is for the benefit of the riders.”

    The Villeneuve-Loubet organiser was cleared of any wrongdoing.

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