Sheikh Hamdan, Crown Prince of Dubai, will face no action over the “Marmoog” horse swap allegations after the FEI announced today that “no legal action can be taken for procedural reasons and due to a lack of conclusive evidence.”
However, the FEI has simultaneously announced that as a result of “loopholes” found by the investigation, it is reviewing horse identification processes and undertaking a “full review of its legal system.” This can at least be regarded as a result – assuming, of course, the new procedures are actually enforced, about which I am not holding my breath.
I was, of course, disappointed that Sheikh Hamdan’s cronies will get away with not having to provide a public explanation as to why “Marmoog” sprouted a white face during the 2012 Endurance World Championships. But I am not entirely surprised, due to the futility of the very tight deadlines – a mere 30-minutes after the event – set by FEI regulations for members of the public to report suspected violations to the ground jury. Sheikh Hamdan would not have needed to hire a very expensive lawyer to point out that get-out.
So while incriminating pictures of the two Marmoogs were handed to the FEI by myself on behalf of London’s Daily Telegraph on March 7th were 18 months, 16 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes too late, I am pleased at least to learn from the FEI today that the nonsense of the 30-minute rule will be included in the legal review.
I gained a deeper understanding of the 30-minute farrago in the unrelated Bahrain video-nasty case, when, in September, the FEI Tribunal upheld the protest about horse abuse at the CEI Sakhir lodged by myself and Lucy Higginson, then editor of Horse & Hound. We relied on video evidence, posted online by the CEI’s own broadcaster, which was drawn to the attention of delegates at the FEI endurance conference in Lausanne on February 9th this year, 24 hours after the race. Those delegates must have already known it would fall foul of the 30-minute rule, but it did not mean they were not concerned; indeed, I was encouraged to protest by a very, very senior figure in the sport.
Horse abuse is the only allegation of malpractice that can be officially made to the FEI by a member of the public at any time. However, our protests about a number of other field-of-play rule-breaches at Sakhir captured on the same video clip were deemed inadmissible because they had not been reported to the judges within the 30 minutes. That was a physical impossibility because we were thousands of miles away at the time.
This is why, over the decades, just about every other rumoured attempt at complaining to the FEI about rule-breaking, short cuts, horse swaps, rider swaps, illegal nerve blocking etc. etc. ad infinitum, will have failed before it has even got out of the traps.
In our representations to the Tribunal regarding CEI Sakhir, we added this observation:
“The Protestors understand that FEI Legal must assess Protests within the framework of FEI rules as they are written. We accepted the earlier advisory from FEI Legal that our other Protests about rules broken by the PR [person responsible] were not admissible within that framework. However, the GR [general regulation] that requires rule violations to be reported not later than 30 minutes following the results works directly against the aims of the ESPG (Endurance Strategic Planning Group).
“The 30-minute rule must surely be amended to account for the specialised nature of endurance if the FEI’s ambitions for rule-enforcement has the remotest chance of success. This is more important now that officials can themselves be censured. Endurance is essentially a non-spectator sport, with a field of play spanning up to 160km. There is minimal chance of offences being witnessed first-hand by the Ground Jury, other officials or by spectators, never mind the practicalities of witnesses locating a relevant official within the deadline currently set out. In this case, the yellow card was partly awarded for non-compliance with applicable rules. If the video evidence of the PR had not been available immediately, it would have been inadmissible and then the field-of-play rule violations (excluding Abuse of the horse) could not have been penalised either. It is incredible to the Protestors that enforcement of endurance rules still relies on the roll of a dice.
“We fully understand that processes must deter trivial or malicious Protests. The GRs for Protests are appropriate for arena-based sports such as dressage and show jumping, because the Ground Jury, officials and spectators can see all competitors all of the time on the field of play. But in endurance, the opposite is the case. Mr Al Alawi [president of the CEI Sakhir ground jury] states he did not witness the offence in person – the nature of the Ground Jury’s work means he could easily have been 30km or more from the PR at any time during the ride.
“Endurance must be able to rely upon bona fide video or picture evidence, and to permit its submission of evidence within a more realistic time frame from any person, not just the FEI officials. A commercial cameraman who has shot hours of film or hundreds of static images may not realise he has captured evidence of wrong-doing until days later. Equally, it may be incumbent upon absentee witnesses to spot a rule violation when commercial images become publicly available. Most cameramen will be unfamiliar with FEI rules but, unlike athletes, camermen are not obliged to read them.”
Although the FEI Tribunal could do nothing about it themselves, their concluding comments in the Sakhir protest decision notice implies they shared my and Lucy’s frustration. As regards white-faced Marmoog, his identification documents satisfied officials on the day at Euston, so the only way anyone could have noticed, on the day, that any horse looked different would be if they carried with them pictures of all horses at all of the previous rides.
Lately, I have also been following the controversy in the UK about Endurance GB’s likely acceptable of a huge, all-encompassing sponsorship by the Maktoums’ Meydan corporation. Chums who belong to EGB have sent me copies of posts on the EGB forum from apparent supporters of the deal that try to discredit my coverage of the wider endurance scandals and which describe me as someone “with an axe to grind.”
That is a baffling statement. For sure, things have gone wrong in my life, the same as they do for anyone else. But none of them, by any stretch of the imagination, can be blamed on the FEI, the Maktoum family or the sport of endurance. Do folk think, perhaps, that I spend my whole day locked up in a garret, obsessing about endurance to the exclusion of anything else? I don’t. I am a normal, rounded person, and to be honest, was less disappointed by the content of the press release about Marmoog than by the fact it arrived out of the blue this afternoon, and that in having to write this and articles about it I was forced to abandon last-minute practice for a viola solo I am due to play at a local concert tonight. (For the avoidance of doubt, its entirely my fault, not the FEI’s, that I did not learn the notes sooner).
I became a journalist 37 years ago because I am interested in, and am quite good at, finding things out. For sure, the endurance scandal took a bit of digging to start with, but now stories come to me, because folk around the world now know I will do my best to flag up the horse abuse that is still occurring on an industrial scale in the name of sport in certain regions, and that I will call the governing bodies to account when their regulatory function falls short.
But while I am not usually a blower-of-my-own-trumpet (or should that be bower-of-my-own-strings?) I do have to say it’s exhausting that this FEI review of process has in part, at least, been triggered by two incidents that would not have come to public attention without my questions and scribblings. The FEI has looked into at least one other of horse-switching that pre-dates the Euston 2012 incident.
It’s piss poor that the FEI hadn’t already done something to tighten up passport fraud, and to make it easier for right-minded members of the public to report alleged rule breaches. Bearing in mind Ingmar de Vos, the FEI secretary general, is likely to become FEI president, can we expect this same reactive style of governance to continue?
Finally, for the record, Hamdan and Marmoog were not mentioned by name in today’s FEI press release into the horse switch enquiry (Horse-Canada.com added it on this site). So the statement offers no explanation for the differing appearance of the two horses. For the record, the FEI has confirmed to me in writing that the statement is indeed about Marmoog.
I also asked if the FEI could categorically deny that the two Marmoogs were not one and the same. They replied: “Findings of all investigations remain confidential. The only time that those findings or parts of them could be disclosed is if they form part of a tribunal or court decision. As clearly mentioned in the FEI statement, no legal action can be taken in this matter, consequently the findings of the investigation remain confidential.”