FEI rider rep resigns over international sport’s resumption during pandemic *H&H Plus*

  • The veteran endurance rider, who became the public face of the FEI endurance temporary committee tasked with cleaning up the sport, has resigned from his post saying his own “code of ethics” is in conflict with the FEI’s Covid-19 policies...

    Tarek Taher, elected rider representative on the FEI endurance temporary committee (ETC), has resigned in protest over the resumption of global sport during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    From the outset of “lockdown,” the Saudi veteran registered his concerns about the FEI’s return-to-play policy. He was proved right in anticipating the FEI would announce (in July) that riders compete at their own risk, with the FEI not liable if anyone at a competition catches Covid or other infectious disease.

    “I put my right foot forward to provide a professional presentation for the athletes to the FEI,” he said. “But I came to find my own code of ethics in many cases is in conflict with FEI policies, especially the Covid-19 policy.

    “I have always maintained that any large gathering can and would be a breeding ground for the virus, with many people travelling from multiple countries to one location. There’s a very high risk someone will bring it or take it home — a catastrophe, not to be played down or ignored. I cannot attach my name to that, so I choose to bow out.”

    FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez told H&H: “As a global organisation with a diverse community, the FEI fully respects everyone’s individual opinion, and that includes any individual; athlete, owner, organiser or official, who decides they do not wish to participate in an event.

    “But for those that do, we expect everyone to keep themselves up to date with local restrictions and FEI guidelines and to respect the safety and security of stakeholders, and welfare of the horses.”

    The FEI’s policy for safety during the pandemic says where a country’s health and sport authorities permit competition, all parties should adhere to guidelines to limit transmission until an effective treatment and/or vaccine is available.

    Ms Ibanez thanked Taher for his tireless efforts on the ETC.

    “We are sorry to lose him, but can look back with great satisfaction at the huge amount achieved in the two years since he took office, not least the full revision of the endurance rules,” she said.

    Mr Taher has competed for many years but sprang to wider attention as rider spokesman during the 2018 World Equestrian Games, amid angry backlash to the endurance ride cancellation. He aimed to create an international riders’ association similar to those in jumping, dressage and eventing and was elected to the FEI committee in autumn 2018, beating seven other endurance candidates.

    While not chairman, Taher soon became the ETC’s public face. He canvassed riders direct over the controversial new welfare rules, and was often blamed on social media for unpopular ETC decisions, which were not his alone.

    Mr Taher is the second athlete elected to resign mid-term. Ireland’s Cian O’Connor stood down as jumping representative in September 2019, saying he felt temperamentally unsuited to committee work and was not making an impact. Cian was replaced by Brazil’s Pedro Veniss, in an appointed role.

    Endurance will make a similar interim appointment.

    The FEI introduced four-yearly online elections to its sport committees in 2014, to strengthen rider input on rule-making, though disagreements about candidate and voter eligibility ensued.

    Voter turnout has been minimal, enabling less-known candidates to succeed with modest social media campaigns, as team gold medallist Laura Tomlinson found when defeated by Italy’s Anna Paprocka-Campanella in 2014. In one discipline, only 12 riders voted, from thousands eligible. In 2014, reining failed to return a winner at all.

    Ms Ibanez said the International Jumping Riders Club has developed a new election process for 2022, which other disciplines are considering.

    British riders successful in past elections are eventers Daisy Berkley (2014) and William Fox-Pitt (2018,) and reining’s Francesca Sternberg (2018).

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