It’s now a couple of days since I received answers to the questions I shared on my last post. Lightening fast, even for the FEI. If I can be relied on to do my time zone math correctly, Lisa Lazarus (she’s the FEI’s biggest little lawyer in case you didn’t know) had answered all of them by Monday afternoon Swissieland time.  I tell ya, all this being taken seriously can go to a girl’s head.

I think the simplest way to share the responses is to re-post the questions here with Lisa’s responses underneath, which is how she sent them. The only difference in how I received them and how I’ve copied them here is that she sent her answers in red, which made them seem much more angry than they appear in black (I can’t figure out how to use colored fonts on this blog). I’ll put my own two-cents’ worth about the FEI’s answers at the bottom of the Q & A.

Q: How did this new rule come into being – when was it discussed and decided, and by whom? Was it in consultation with member federations prior to the GA? Am I correct in thinking there was a vote taken on it at the GA itself?

A: The concerns underlying the rule were first raised by several National Federations and then considered by the FEI Executive Board and FEI Bureau, who proposed the specific rule to the General Assembly.  It was provided to National Federations as part of the consultation process in July 2012 and then again in October 2012 prior to the General Assembly vote. It was then discussed and explained in more detail at the General Assembly in Istanbul and ultimately voted into effect by the General Assembly. The vast majority of international federations/governing bodies have such rules to protect the integrity and safety of their sports.

Q: I did see the rule change on a third reading of the GA main decisions, but see no reference to the ‘Rationale for new Articles’ that the IDRC shared with its members recently. How was this document disseminated to members and why were media not included (unless of course I missed a press release, but I did comb through the FEI’s own list of recent releases on the website)?

A: The rationale was provided to all National Federations as part of the consultation process in July 2012 so that National Federations could understanding the reason that the new rule was being put forward.  The Rationale for new Articles was not disseminated to media as it is a General Assembly process. This information was supplied to voting members, ie NFs, at the same time as they got the rules proposals, July 2012. It was provided to the IDRC recently (post-GA) when they were asking for clarification on the new rule.

Q: If a rider enters an unsanctioned competition, but rides hors concours, does the ban rule still apply?

A: Yes, the rider is still giving credibility to an event that may not satisfy the requisite standards for horse welfare, anti-doping and athlete safety.

Q: The FEI’s statement regarding the reason for the new rule makes it clear that the primary purpose is horse welfare. Controlling entry to unsanctioned events does nothing to address potential abuse in the training at home. How does the FEI envision the rule about unsanctioned competitions addressing questionable practices outside of competition?

A: The FEI is doing its utmost to protect horse welfare where it has the authority to act. Unfortunately, it generally does not have the authority to intervene with respect to training practices at home, which is the responsibility of the local authorities.

Q: The accusation could be made against the FEI that by interfering with what riders do outside of FEI sanctioned competitions is overextending its reach to an unreasonable level. Ultimately, is there really a fundamental difference between competing in a small jumping show down the street and setting up a course at home? Has the FEI discussed such policing practices that would see FEI riders monitored in their own facilities?

A: In the FEI’s view, there is a difference between competitions where it has the authority to act as the world governing body for equestrian sport and policing riders at their own training facilities, where it does not have that authority.  The FEI has not discussed policing practices of FEI riders in their own facilities.

Q: Related to the above: this new rule is a much stronger one than one that would, say, compel national federations to bring their welfare-related rules into line with the FEI. For example, NSAIDs are permitted at USEF sanctioned competitions, but are banned in FEI competition. If the FEI is so concerned for welfare, why would it impose this new rule about unsanctioned events while allowing its own members to continue to permit practices the FEI has deemed against the welfare of the horse?

A: The rationale for the rule is clearly set out in the document which is attached, of which horse welfare is one factor but not the only factor. The FEI does require all National Federations to conform to the main principles of the Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations, including adopting the same Equine Prohibited Substances List for doping substances. The FEI General Assembly has granted some limited autonomy for the NFs to control the Prohibited List for national events with respect to Controlled Medication.

Q: How will the FEI enforce this new rule? There are literally thousands of small, informal competitions around the world that are unsanctioned by national federations. And to what degree will the FEI consider that a competition falls into the ‘ban’ category? To give an example: during an annual dressage championship (nationally sanctioned) here in Vancouver, there is an evening competition that is primarily for entertainment of the audience, but there are prizes given out. The competition is a jumping five bar class. Would a participant in that event then be banned by the FEI? We also have what are known as percentage days, where riders enter one or two tests in front of a judge and receive a score sheet, but there is no competition and ribbons for rankings are not given out. Would that count as an event that would cause a rider to be banned?

A: The FEI will only enforce the rule against unsanctioned international events. If a National Federation informs the FEI that there is a national/local event that it considers a significant risk and that it has informed its riders that such an event is specifically unsanctioned by the National Federation. The FEI is not concerned with local events.

Q: An unintended consequence to this new rule may be to harm small businesses in the equestrian industry, as well as grass roots sport. An example: a training barn with a nice full sized indoor arena holds schooling dressage shows through the winter. The shows bring business to the facility. Local dressage trainers often bring a group of students to compete at these schooling shows, and will sometimes bring a young horse of their own to give it a bit of exposure. These trainers are usually FEI level riders with horses competing in CDIs. If the trainers face a six month ban for bringing their young horse to the schooling show, they are less likely to bring their students, and more likely to just set up a ring at home and do practice tests (where there would be no control over training methods, by the way), and perhaps hire a judge to come and give informal feedback. The training facility that holds the shows suffers a drop in entries at its schooling shows. In addition, young riders lose the opportunity to ride alongside the FEI riders who are their role models, something which is an undeniably inspiring opportunity for an up-and-coming athlete in any sport. Has the FEI thought about this potential side effect of preventing FEI riders from competing at unsanctioned events?

A: The FEI has made it very clear through various communications that the rule does not apply to local events unless a National Federation specifically objects to the event and informs its riders and the FEI.

Q: Even though the FEI states welfare as the primary purpose for this new rule, it is impossible for me not to think of the fact that there are unsanctioned competitions of considerable size and prize money that could be seen as competing with FEI events. Endurance racing comes to mind. Can the FEI say definitively that preventing competition and effectively creating a monopoly in order to protect its own interests is in no way the purpose of this new rule?

A: The purpose of the new rule is clearly set out in detail in the rationale document which is attached, of which horse welfare is one but not the only element.

Okay. So a few things really stand out and glare at me with purple FEI eyes. The first is that Lisa Lazarus seems to think I didn’t read the rationale – even though I provided a link to it in my previous post. She answered two questions by telling me to read the Rationale, and a copy of the Rationale was attached to the email containing her response. If the Rationale answered all the questions so neatly, I would never have asked them in the first place.

Another impression I take from the FEI’s email is that some of these answers are really more like ‘answers’. I wonder if Lisa and Trond went to the same school of rhetoric? Or am I just not sufficiently familiar with the lawyer’s style of ‘answering’ questions?  Am I supposed to pull away the layers as if I were looking for the heart of an onion? Being an avid cook I know that if you keep peeling away the layers of an onion you discover that there is nothing at the center – just a smelly little empty space.

I think I know one item on Lisa’s ‘if I had three wishes’ list. She betrays a lot (which doesn’t happen in too many of her responses) by phrasing her response to my question about ‘FEI as police state’ with this choice of wording: “unfortunately, it generally does not have the authority to intervene with respect to training practices at home, which is the responsibility of the local authorities.” I was not suggesting the FEI should seek to become the Interpol of horse training, but the response suggests that is exactly what at least one employee at Mission Control would like to see happen.

Regarding enforcement: call me a conspiracy theorist but it seems to me the FEI is giving national federations rather a lot of discretionary authority to black ball schooling shows. If a country like Canada has serious issues with conflict of interest within its federation (and it does, oh yes it certainly does), I think it’s fair to assume so does every other federation on earth, some to a significantly greater degree  than others (yes, I’m talking about you, Latin America). Someone in the right position of power in the national federation could wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decide that so-and-so’s little warm up competition is riddled with horse abuse. All they would have to do is phone up HQ (and the riders – that ‘s a rule) and tell them they have a concern about welfare or integrity and want to apply the FEI ban rule. I can’t imagine the FEI having the human resources (never mind the desire) to chase down every little accusation from every little federation to find out if there is a real problem or if the rule is being used for vendetta purposes.

I just had an enlightening conversation with a member of the Canadian show jumping community whom I admire a great deal. He opened my eyes to the argument that national and international federations should be doing what they can to reduce the existence of unsanctioned competitions. I do take his point, but I still have to think about it some more to decide if I’m going to change my mind. I might change it a little, but I still think the FEI has a hand made of lead when it deals out their ‘new rules’ as Bill Maher would call them. Heavy on the authority, light on the communication. Just look at the faq sheet the IDRC sent to all its members this week in an effort to make sure they understand all the stuff in the fine print. Actually, it’s not fine print. It isn’t print at all. The Rationale and the rule put together do not make up half a definition of what the unsanctioned ban rule really means to riders – which is why the IDRC and I have asked so many questions over the past couple of weeks. Maybe the FEI should consider writing a rationale for the rationale.

Just to change subjects for a minute, I’m off to Welly World next week. It’s my first ever pre-Christmas visit, and I can’t wait to see how those palm trees are already fanning the flames of dissent and disorder down there. Look, here’s just one little example of the kind of shenanigans they are getting up to already. And it’s not even Season yet! Needless to say, I’ll be sharing any charred bits with you right here on the blog.