Things at the FEI GA finally spiced up at the end of a very long presentation by the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (aka ESPG). Especially when a diminutive and predictably sun-tanned little fellow named Malcolm McDonald got hold of the microphone during the question period. Why predictably tanned? Well, because Malcolm is the Jamaican federation’s new president, and I would hazard a guess that he will soon be the Jamaican federation’s past president. After admitting he knew nothing about endurance, he then launched on a scathing criticism of everything the ESPG had presented. When he started naming the individuals he thought should be removed from the Group(“clean up your group. Take out the connected people. Take out Lord Stevens, who is connected to the FEI and to the president.”), ESPG chair Andrew Finding headed him off at the pass. The shame of it is, Jamaica wasn’t completely without reason. I also question the appropriateness of Lord Stevens’ involvement simultaneously in the FEI Integrity Unit, reviewing the ESPG’s progress thus far, and being an advisor to Sheikh Mohammed’s ‘internal’ investigation into how those pesky drugs keep ending up on his planes and in his trainers’ stables. But unfortunately, Jamaica came off as an attention-seeking sociopath, which pretty much cancels out any value he might have had to contribute.
To give credit where credit is due: The FEI today made many bald confessions about the problems in Endurance, and Andrew Finding in particular didn’t beat around any bushes. “We have a serious problem to solve. We may not like the media coverage, we may not agree that it’s all correct. But the levels of doping and injuries are unacceptable.” And that was just for openers. Gotta give props for calling a spade a spade. Some of the presentations, including Finding’s own, were at times quite vague – as a journalist sitting beside me said during Joe Mattingley’s (USA) presentation, he might have been talking about cars or bananas. But I particularly appreciated the presentation by the Frenchman on the ESPG, Jean-Louis Leclerc. I actually think his presentation on its own would have sufficed to cover all the bases, identify all the problems, and define most of the solutions.
The presentation that did nothing to change the opinions of those who believe the problem is not ‘global’ but due to practices from countries in the Middle East, was the video Skype presentation of Saeed Al Tayer of the UAE, who couldn’t make it to Montreux. Saeed is the one that the Swiss and other federations have most objected to being on the ESPG. No one with a shred of sanity can argue that this man has no connection to one of the countries at the centre of it all, the UAE. He is CEO of Meydan City Corporation and Vice Chairman of the Emirates Racing Authority. If you don’t believe me, here is a formal statement from him on the Godolphin website following Sheikh Mohammed’s decree back in the spring making anabolic steroids illegal in the UAE.
So here is what I found ‘off’ in Saeed’s presentation. He claims that Endurance trainers are solely responsible for everything to do with the care, management and training of endurance horses, and that they should be the Persons Responsible (PR) in all doping cases in Endurance. He used the term ‘family’ a lot of times, which, given his beyond-cozy relationship to the Sheikh, I thought was perhaps not the wisest thing for him to stress. Belgium’s Pierre Arnould, the FEI Endurance Committee member who invoked the FEI’s wrath by daring to speak out against the ESPG in the press a few weeks ago, had his turn at the mike during questions. He said something that I think contained as much value as Jamaica Man’s lacked: the problem with endurance is almost entirely limited to the activities of three National Federations. He also said that the reality these days is that if you want to become a professional in Endurance, that means either working with one of the three federations with the money and the inclination to fund Endurance, or to to train or sell horses to one of those three federations. Andrew Finding had said in his opening comments that some of the things said today would make some people ‘uncomfortable’. I would bet a glass of Swiss wine that what Arnould said made plenty of people uncomfortable.
Finding responded to Arnould by saying that in cases where the rider IS the trainer (that would be most of the world) the rider remains the PR. But here is what bothers me: if you go back to the FEI Tribunal reports about past doping cases, folks like Sheikh Mohammed, members of his family, and other doping culprits from the middle east defended themselves by throwing trainers or grooms under the FEI bus. If the trainer is the PR, presto! No more doping ugliness for the riders. Those, that is, who have trainers. Which is everyone in the Middle East, and not really anyone else.
The surprising about-face today was that the president of the Dutch federation got up and unreservedly praised the ESPG for its excellent presentation. This was one of the federations that was most vocal in criticizing the composition of the ESPG, and called for a more properly objective group to take up the role of cleaning up Endurance.
I’m going to go glass half full on the Endurance cleaning crew for now, but not without reservations. I think the ‘trainer as PR’ is malodorous, and I agree with Arnould that what needs to be admitted is that the problem is arising from one geographic region. On the other hand, I did come away with the impression that there is a genuine, honest desire to make the problems go away, and to bring a stop to what amounts in my book to animal cruelty.
In other non-news, I spoke to members of the Canadian delegation who attended the Olympic qualification meeting that I was prevented from going to on Monday, and it doesn’t sound like I missed much. Presumably, the meeting was closed because of an expectation that there would be fireworks, but apparently there were only a couple of sparklers lit. I was also told that there was no material change made to the Olympic or Paralympic qualification proposals. Which of course means it’s all going through tomorrow at the GA. I don’t remember the last time a proposal made it all the way to the floor of the GA and didn’t get a vast majority vote.
GA all day tomorrow. Keep ya posted.