One factor I failed to appreciate when I headed to Switzerland this fall, was that attending the FEI GA would entail a recovery period of unpredictable length. I would like to recommend that the welcome package for the GA include the following warning:
Welcome to the FEI General Assembly! Side effects of attending this event may include, and are not limited to:
Nausea, headache and vomiting
Drowsiness, especially when faced with writing articles that have limited word counts
Undefined anxiety that increases with any effort to make sense of events
Uncertainty about reality and feelings similar to when you learned Santa doesn’t exist
It’s now a good ten days clear of the GA, and I’m still scratching my head. I don’t know what I expected of my first GA experience, but I definitely got more than I bargained for. So much so that I think I have to carve this turkey up into individual limbs in order to get through it all on the blog without writing a treatise. Let’s focus today on just one major player in the GA: HRH’s right hand man Ingmar de Vos.
Ingmar, in his role as Sec Gen, did the lion’s share of the talking during the GA. He twice said during that very long day that we must be tired of hearing his voice. But I wasn’t tired of his voice at all. He has a soft, buttery baritone that I found soothing, regardless of what words were coming out of his mouth. Ingmar would make a great bedtime story reader. Okay, moving right along to something of actual relevance.
When some last minute changes to the dressage Olympic qualifications were explained immediately before they were to be voted on, NZL federation Chief Exec Jim Ellis raised his hand. Turns out that those last minute changes, which affected the individual allocations world-wide, were news to the Kiwis, who had not been consulted at all by their Group chair. Ellis quite rightly pointed out that it wasn’t really fair to ask a country to vote on a change that materially affected it with ZERO time to understand the implications, never mind to request the same exception that had been granted to the Americas (if you are interested in the details, I blogged about it at length over on Straight-Up).
In response, Ingmar did what seemed to me to be the absolute correct and democratic thing. He postponed the vote on the dressage qualifications until after lunch to give NZ and any other in-the-dark nations a chance to get up to speed. Which they did. Not only that, the group known as G that includes Southeast Asia and Oceania requested the same exception to the allocations that the Americas had got. The request was accepted by the FEI and it was included in the item which was voted on after lunch. Democracy at work!
Also after lunch, and also involving Oceania, was a proposal from the only two countries in that region who have ever, and are ever likely in our lifetimes, to send equestrian athletes to the Olympics. Ingmar explained that the FEI Bureau had been asked to approve the formation of a continental organization along the lines of the EEF and the somewhat obscure PAEC, which doesn’t have a website that I can find but does, oddly, have a logo. Ingmar told the assembled delegates that the Bureau had decided not to recommend recognizing such a federation because it failed to represent 30% of the 70 countries in Oceania – you know, hotbeds of equestrian sport like Vanuatu, Samoa and little tiny two km square Wake Island, with its 12 inhabitants.
Chris Hodson, whom I’ve admired ever since he stood up to HRH back in 2010 in the run-up to her re-election, ever-so-politely pointed out that Oceania includes the continent of Antarctica, which has “penguins, scientists and killer whales, but no horses. We are the only two nations in the region with any organized equestrian sport.” Hodson then said that this notion of the Bureau to demand 30% representation by the region’s countries had never been heard before by him – or presumably by anyone else who had not been at the Bureau meeting where the item was discussed. He described the requirement as “an absolute impossibility”. Finally, Hodson pointed out that the formation of a continental association for Oceania would harm no one – not the FEI, not other continental associations not a single athlete anywhere – even one little teeny tiny bit.
After Australia had its say along the same lines, the proposal was put to the vote. And this was the only time ALL DAY that we saw lots of red cards raised in the air. And by lots I mean a majority. Ingmar was visibly shocked that most delegates decided to vote against the Bureau’s recommendation and in favour of the Down Unders’ proposal. The scrutineers were flustered as they faced one of the day’s only moments where they actually had to count more than a couple of votes. Ingmar kept asking the delegates if they understood that they were voting against the Bureau. It was a rare moment at such a formal event as the FEI GA to see such an unfiltered reaction from the otherwise taciturn Sec Gen. Democracy at work again, but with somewhat different dynamics.
Ingmar looked a tad peaked by the time the press conference rolled around, but who wouldn’t be tired after a long day of being the FEI’s Charles Atlas?