United Arab Emirates endurance riders are free to compete from Tuesday with the International Equestrian Federation (FEI’s) decision to lift their national federation’s ban.
Monthly performance reviews, the application of rigorous FEI rules at national competitions, attempts to reduce fatalities and respect for mandatory rest periods are among the conditions negotiated since the UAE was grounded in March after multiple horse-welfare scandals highlighted by Telegraph Sport. Any future breaches could result in further suspension and the withdrawal of the World Endurance Championships in Dubai in December 2016.
The FEI bureau had already decided to suspend the UAE on March 11, before the Telegraph exposed that 13 race rides in Dubai and Abu Dhabi since 2012 were faked. A separate investigation for the FEI by Lord Stevens’s agency, Quest, has been completed and its file is being considered by the FEI tribunal. The FEI is annulling all duplicated results and reviewing any connected ride results. This could have grave repercussions for riders contesting major championships on horses whose qualifications were falsified.
Most welfare scandals have involved stables owned by the ruling Maktoum family. Last autumn, Sheikh Mohammed’s wife Princess Haya decided not to stand again as FEI president, and tougher action has been initiated by her successor, Ingmar de Vos.
The UAE was forced to drop its appeal against suspension in April before the FEI agreed to talk.
Rumour that agreement was reached has increased with the recent arrival of 200 Maktoum endurance horses to their UK base, Euston Park in Suffolk. The squad’s Facebook page shows a 100-kilometre “training ride” in preparation for the remaining European season. The UAE is now entitled to enter the FEI ride at Hanslope, near Milton Keynes, this Saturday.
The FEI has tightened its legal process and issued guidelines to officials about gathering evidence over field-of-play violations.
Last autumn, the case against Sheikh Hamdan, Crown Prince of Dubai, for riding a “ringer” at the 2012 World Championships collapsed on a technicality. The FEI has created new offences including “match-fixing” and “bringing equestrianism and the FEI in particular into disrepute”.
Sabrina Zeender, the FEI secretary-general, said: “The UAE federation is absolutely committed to making this work so that they can return to playing an active and leading role in endurance once again and, to demonstrate that commitment, they have included the UAE’s highest sporting body, the National Olympic Committee, in the agreement.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s chances of qualifying a show jumping team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games may become clearer on Friday, when a further possible line-up for the European Championships is tested during the Furusiyya Nations Cup at the Longines Royal International Horse Show, which starts on Tuesday.
Team manager Di Lampard has picked three experienced partnerships of Ben Maher (Diva II), Michael Whitaker (Cassionato) and Guy Williams (Titus II) for the home leg at Hickstead, while giving a chance to two younger riders, Holly Gillott (Dougie Douglas) and Jessica Mendoza (Spirit T).
The 2012 gold medallists have had a lean time since London. Britain failed to gain their Rio slot when finishing just 18th of 31 national teams at the World Equestrian Games last August. Their last Rio chance is at the European Championships in Aachen, where several other strong show jumping countries including Ireland, Belgium and Switzerland will be vying for the three remaining Olympic places.
Mendoza, 19, is only just out of juniors but made an impressive debut in senior five-star Nations Cup this summer, jumping clear rounds in St Gallen and for the winning squad at Rotterdam.
“Your focus is always on the round you are about to jump, though the Rio situation does put a different perspective on things,” she said. “If we just keep jumping good, you never know.”
After Hickstead, Lampard has just the Dublin Nations Cup to finalise her Aachen squad, which is already without the world’s top ranked horse, Hello Sanctos. Scott Brash announced last month that Sanctos will instead travel to Canada for the £1 million Rolex Grand Slam in September.
Brash, who recently relocated from Peebleshire to Sussex, will contest Hickstead’s individual classes, riding younger horses Hello M’Lady and Hello Forever. Highlights include the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup on Saturday, and the Longines King George V Gold Cup on Sunday, one of the few grands prix Brash has yet to win.
Andrew Nicholson, Pippa Funnell and Harry Meade head the line-up in the new look Amlin Eventing Challenge on Thursday. This hybrid contest’s predecessor was scrapped last year due to broadcast commitments, but reinstated this year by public demand.
Show director Lizzie Bunn said: “The new format is just open to event [cross-country] riders, which means we can make the course more technical, and all the fences will be cross-country jumps with no show jumping section.”
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