Actually, I’m more than that. I’m disgusted. But I couldn’t figure out how to turn ‘disgusted’ into a Daily Show-esque headline. If you haven’t heard the news, please read this short announcement sent out by the Saudi Equestrian team, which even comes with explicit instructions to the media on how to use quotes:
Statement regarding the findings of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport
11 June 2012
The entire team at Saudi Equestrian is delighted with the findings of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport which has reduced the original eight month ban handed to Khaled Abdulaziz Al Eid and Abdullah Waleed Sharbatly, to two months and, following their voluntary suspension in February, allows both riders to start competing again with immediate effect.
With Khaled Al Eid already qualified for the London Olympic Games with Presley Boy, the focus is now on Abdullah Sharbatly qualifying on Sultan V before 17th June.
We would like to draw attention to the original findings of the FEI Tribunal which acknowledged, in both cases, that neither the rider nor the team had deliberately administered Bute to their horses, and reiterate that Saudi Equestrian is an unequivocal supporter of the FEI’s Clean Sport campaign.
If a quote is required, please use the following:
Ziyad Abduljawad, the Managing Director of Saudi Equestrian said, “This has been an extremely difficult and testing time for the Saudi Equestrian team and I would like to praise the way in which both Khaled andAbdullah have handled themselves throughout the process.
I would also like to praise the entire Saudi Equestrian team who have remained focussed and have gone about their own competition schedules in an exemplary fashion.
I would also like to extend my thanks and gratitude to Jeremy Dickerson and his team at Burges Salmon for all their hard work on this case.”
In my last post I took back something I said in the previous post about suspecting CAS of possible corruption when they fast tracked the Saudi case, leapfrogging it over the Dominican appeal against the FEI and Brazilian Federation. Now I’m going to have to take back my take-back. I also said last week that I’m not omniscient but I’m going to have to retract that statement too. CAS really isn’t immune to the politicking and palm greasing that seems to run so much of the world, present equestrian company not excepted. It turns out I am omniscient after all, and I didn’t even know it.
It makes me hang my head in shame that the arbitrator who handed down the CAS decision calls himself a Canadian. Not that Canada is innocent when it comes to things like doping in sport – Ben Johnson sprints to mind – but still. Did it have to be a Canadian involved in this case? Graeme Mew (who may or may not be related to cat food mogul Miss Mew) is a lawyer with one tasseled shoe in Toronto and the other across the pond in London. He’s a specialist in dispute resolution with a particular interest in sport disputes, and an extra special fondness for rugby. Apparently he isn’t that fond of horses though, since the reason given for the reduction of the Saudi suspensions is that ‘the infraction was of minor importance’. Tell that to the horses, Mr. Mew.
I have so much to say about this I hardly know where to begin, but here goes. The Saudi statement gushes about how meaningful it was that the athletes didn’t intend to give their horses the bute that was found in their systems (conspiracy theorists should visit my post from a couple of weeks ago to read about how Sharbatly accused the Europeans of plotting against him by slipping something into Lobster’s oats). Excuse me, but the FEI was not required to prove intent, only infraction. And of course these guys are going to claim they didn’t mean to have bute in their horses’ bloodstreams. But I’d like to see proof before I drink that Kool-Aid.
While the CAS decision doesn’t say anything about bute not being performance-enhancing, there are people who suspect Mr. Mew saw it that way. Dear Mr. Mew: if you were an athlete and you had pain somewhere in your body – some part you needed to use for your sport, like your leg – and if you took some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory – such as ibuprofen – and if the pain went away, you would probably perform your sport – say, rugby – better as a result. Agreed? Mr. Mew, you seem to be somewhat ill-informed about the ability of horses to ask for an Advil, so let me explain. They can’t. They can’t tell us where it hurts, or how much, or whether they think that if they don’t rest the injury it might lead to something much more serious. And that’s part of the reason the FEI has a zero tolerance policy toward doping or controlled medication violations. Oh, well, that and a conscious effort to be consistent with the policies of an obscure little organization known as WADA.
A bit more food for thought I’d love for Mr. Mew to chew on (since he apparently didn’t chew on it during his assessment of the Case of the Mysterious Bute): you say that the infraction was of minor importance. Did you bother to look at the case on the basis of past history? Because if you didn’t, you missed that Sharbatly was yellow carded last year for ‘abuse of horse’ and suspended in 2006 when his horse Quatro tested positive for testosterone. The groom took the heat for that one. Of course it had to be the groom’s fault. Sharbatly was a mere pup of 24 at the time and could not possibly have had thoughts of cheating swirling around in his innocent little head.
Maybe Mr. Mew looked at the FEI rules on doping and medication, but I’m not sure he looked very closely. You see, the standard suspension in doping cases as per the rules is two years. In order for a reduced sentence to be considered, the person responsible has to prove that he ‘bears no fault or negligence’ for the violation. The FEI Tribunal’s decision spells out in the most verbose possible way that Sharbatly had failed to prove he bore no fault or negligence (and came to the same conclusion with Khaled Al Eid). They even point out in the document that mere denial of intent is not proof of same. Eight months is already a lot less than two years, but Mr. Mew saw fit to reduce the suspensions by a further 400%. He really doesn’t like horses, does he?
I’m going to drag the Dominican vs. FEI/Brazil appeal into this story, because the Dominicans are still waiting for a hearing date, even though their case was filed with CAS weeks before the Saudi case AND is equally time sensitive in regard to the Olympics. In fact, it seems to me the Dominican case merits fast tracking even more than the Saudi appeal could have merited, because the Dominican appeal is actually ABOUT the Olympics, whereas the Saudis would just have missed them because of breaking the rules.
One reason the Dominican appeal is slower to go through the system is because it requires three arbitrators, instead of just one Mr. Mew. (And that makes me wonder how two separate doping violations managed to get so neatly packaged into one appeal that was heard by the same CAS man. Their cases were similar, but by no means identical. That doesn’t seem entirely on the up-and-up to me.) But here is the main reason the Dominican case is taking longer. When an appeal is filed with CAS, the defendant has 20 days to prepare its own statement in defense of its actions. In both the Dominican and the Saudi appeals, the defendant is the FEI. The FEI waived that 20 day waiting period with the Saudis, so it got to be heard 20 days earlier, undefended by the FEI. They have done no such thing with the Dominican appeal. The latest I’ve heard is that the FEI and Brazil both rejected a date with CAS for June 20th because they can’t make it, perhaps with the excuse that they have to wash their hair that day. The date they suggested is July 5th, which is just four days shy of the deadline for being signed up for London.
Being the Curious Georgette that I am, I wonder why the FEI decided not to bother defending its reasons for the eight month Saudi suspensions. Was it because the FEI was so sure it was right that it didn’t believe CAS would find differently? Or is there something more sinister rotting back there behind the sofa? Nah, I’m not really omniscient. But something sure stinks in here.
Just as I was about to post this, an FEI press release was beamed into my inbox from Mission Control. The release included the news that at their meeting last week the FEI Bureau voted in favor of letting the FEI join the International Fair Play Committee. How timely.
*N.B. to today’s extra-clever readers – if you got the joke in the first paragraph following the Saudi statement, give yourself a gold star.