Tougher measures employed to clean up UAE endurance *H&H VIP*

  • Twelve “strong” measures will be applied for the remainder of the UAE endurance season, in a new agreement between the FEI and the Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) announced on 13 February.

    The agreement heralded the resumption of racing in time for Saturday’s prestigious President’s Cup at Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi.

    Sport was halted the previous week after a horse-beating scandal at the same venue on 30 January, which resulted in the EEF fining the stables involved a staggering $100,000 (£69,100) each.

    However, there is disappointment on social media that the measures to be applied — all attributed to the EEF — do not go far enough.

    Many are either “borrowed” from the initiatives of Sheikh Sultan Al Nahyan at his Bou Thib venue in Abu Dhabi, or a reiteration of FEI rules that have been openly flouted in the UAE for years.

    However, FEI secretary-general Sabrina Ibanez gave credit to the EEF for taking the initiative at last.

    “We need to change hearts as well as minds, and the solution lies in education and dialogue, as well as taking a tough line with sanctions,” she said.

    “The EEF has been bold, taking stringent action as seen recently with the suspension of events and sanctioning athletes and trainers, clearly demonstrating their commitment to work together with the FEI to eradicate the incidents that have tarnished the sport. We will continue to work together to ensure progress.”

    Tightening rules

    The FEI has twice tightened its own endurance rules in 18 months. However, they have proved largely ineffective in the current UAE season.

    Last month FEI endurance director Manual Bandeira de Mello openly asked other UAE endurance organisers to follow the Bou Thib lead. The new agreement does not go as far as Bou Thib, where speed is capped at 20kph and 70% of the prizes go only to horses meeting Sheikh Sultan’s “best condition” criteria.

    The EEF will, though, adopt parameters similar to Bou Thib’s for heart recovery and rest periods; constraints on mobile crewing and vehicle access in the last 2-5km of the race; compulsory pre-ride briefings of all riders and crew; and limiting entries to 150 per ride.

    FEI rules underlined include confinement of horses to secure event stabling, and the use of broadcast footage to identify rule violations.

    The number of rides is also reduced.

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    Last March the UAE federation was suspended for four months and signed a legal agreement with the FEI, which is understood to have included the removal of the World Championship event from Dubai in December 2016 if standards did not improve. The FEI has emphatically denied that the difficulty in finding an alternative championship venue is influencing its handling of the crisis.

    Mrs Ibanez added: “The EEF is fully aware of what it is in the balance.”

    The President’s Cup was won by Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum riding Shaddad, whom he has partnered only once before. The FEI wants to reduce speeds, but Sheikh Rashid was on average 2kph faster than the winner of another UAE 160km race last month. Only 50 of the 190 starters completed.

    Ref: H&H 18/02/2016