News that Dr Hallvard Sommerseth has been suspended for a mere two years for his role in the submission of over 500 sets of bogus endurance results to the FEI makes you wonder exactly what heinous crime a senior figure in global equestrianism has to commit to get the possible lifetime FEI ban for fraud. I guess that holding up the FEI accounts department and demanding all the Longines money would result in little more than polite escort from the King Hussein building and a nice box of Swiss chocolates to eat on the way home.
Abdul Aziz Mohammed Yasin Sheikh, head of the endurance department at the UAE federation, is also suspended for just 18 months for his part in this fiasco. Both will also have to re-qualify as four-star judges before they are allowed to officiate again. Well, that’s an extra bummer for them – not.
To introduce some much needed levity when unravelling the Bogus Rides scam 12 months ago, my plucky helpers christened the perpetrators “the Bogi.”
Well, it looks like the Bogi will return soon. As they receive credit for time served already, Sommerseth can return to judging next year. He has no doubt been able to claim back his derisory 4,000 Swiss francs fine as a business expense from his employers.
I somehow doubt Dr S will get many invitations to judge outside the UAE in 2017 save, maybe, from my own home federation. British endurance, says the rumour mill, thinks enough water has passed under the bridge to surreptitiously moot the reintroduction of rides at the Maktoums’ “own” UK venue, Euston Park, no doubt in return for a nice fat donation to central funds. The Euston programme was suspended by the Maktoums in 2013 in a hissy fit when the world’s media had the effrontery to report the horseracing’s worst-ever doping scandal at their Godolphin barn just up the road in Newmarket.
Stand by for news of four summer Eustons being parachuted into the FEI calendar – really only of benefit to the Maktoums themselves as no one else in Britain has enough horses to service this many CEIs in such a short time-frame.
But back to the matter in hand: the bogus rides were exposed by yours truly following a tip-off to Horse & Hound that a 120km race purportedly staged on January 21, 2015 did not take place at all. Volunteers from the “clean endurance” community helped me find detailed results cut and pasted from earlier rides, with 12 further similar bogus rides going back to 2012 involving 500 alleged different horse and rider combinations. These were mostly, though not exclusively, 80km “qualifiers” entered into the FEI calendar at short notice, always with the same small pool of key officials (see below) and many of them apparently on-demand by specific Royal barns.
After my articles about the scam, the FEI’s Equine Community Integrity Unit (ECIU) carried out an official investigation and identified a further three rides, making 16 in all.
I completely stand by my information that the January 21st ride and at least one other did not occur at all. No one has tried to persuade me otherwise or provide pictures or any other tangible proof from any of the 16 rides concerned.
However, once it was decided that the rides did all take place in some shape or form, but without proper timing systems (so as to incentivise the undisputed faking of results), it became whole lot easier to limit the number of folk that would take the flak.
This also had the effect of absolving hundreds of fakees. In any other horse sport, ignorance is no excuse; the rider is ultimately the Person Responsible for any transgression. Not if you are in UAE endurance or ride for the Royal barns, though. All these riders have been disqualified, but the FEI feels no further penalty is due as it “wasn’t the riders’ fault there was no timing.” Was no one sufficiently interested to look up their results then, and think, funny, that’s not what I recall doing?
The FEI Tribunal found that Dr Sommerseth was hands-on organising these rides without timing systems, while Mr Sheikh had been chairman of the ground jury at eight affected rides and thus deemed to have known the absence of timing systems broke the rules.
What I don’t understand is why FEI Legal itself actually presented the FEI Tribunal with the notion that a two- year ban for Sommerseth – about the same as you’d get for a once in a lifetime doping offence – would suffice while at the same time using strong language about his demeanour. If you read the actual decision notices and not just the FEI’s brief press releases, you will find Sommerseth described as “grossly negligent with regards to his duties,” calling “integrity of FEI Events into question and had caused serious damage internationally to the reputation of the FEI” and acting in a horse welfare-averse way – he’s a vet, for goodness sake. He is also accused of telling two completely different stories to the ECIU: yes there was timing but, er, no there wasn’t.
Some of the things Sommerseth is reported as arguing to Tribunal should earn a medal for audacity. My favorites are that “he did not consider using existing rides [results] that had approximately the same speeds as cheating” and that “the rides had taken place only for qualifying purposes and only for selected stables, i.e. not open to everyone… and, therefore, no computerized timing or official timekeepers had been required.”
Can you imagine what the ruckus would be if the likes of William Fox-Pitt and Mickey Jung hired Aachen for a private CIC*** just before the Olympics? Incroyable.
Once the Tribunal had been advised that a two-year ban would suffice, it wasn’t much of a hop to overlook the many other questions arising: who exactly input the faked data (as we learn neither Sommerseth nor Sheikh enacted that bit of the scam)? What about the two rides where neither Sheikh nor Sommerseth “officiated” (see below)? How did the then FEI endurance director Ian Williams approve so many schedules submitted at the last-minute purely for qualifying purposes with no specific ride venue stated and various other key omissions (see below)?
Why, when the UAE is teeming with foreign nationals in the winter all begging for rides, did the bogus rides involve mostly barn jockeys solely from the UAE and the Indian subcontinent? I guess because foreigners would be more likely to notice there was no timing system, or that they were actually shopping in the gold souk at the time.
Why did the other officials listed not notice there was no timing, and are still officiating? I could go on, but if you are sufficiently interested in this by now you will have read the decision notices in full, anyway.
Just to finish off Fudger’s Friday, Ali Al Muhairi, coming towards the end of his FEI record four-year ban for a steroids offence, has received a mere one extra month ban (till April) for entering the field of play while suspended. I have been sent loads of clips showing him turning up all over the shop.
One particular offence relates to Euston 2012 (where else?) and has been on the Tribunal case status table for three and a half years. I have asked at regular intervals why the case hasn’t been heard yet. It now turns out that one of the reasons he got just an extra month’s ban today because of the long delay bringing the case to a hearing!
In his evidence he said he had no choice other than to step onto the field of play for his “first calling and utmost duty [was] to represent and advice [sic] the Sheikh whenever requested.” Well, quite. Hilariously, one of the witnesses was Abdul Sheikh. What a shame Ali did not have the presence of mind to say Abdul made it all up.
I don’t know why so much time and effort is being put into re-formatting dressage, eventing and jumping to the point of destroying all their core values in order to stay in the Olympic movement. The ongoing lawlessness of UAE endurance and the FEI’s failure as Sports Regulator in this region will must soon persuade the IOC we are all rotten to the core and they’ll chuck us out anyway.
The bogus rides
These rides have since been removed from the FEI database but, fear not, I downloaded all the schedules (where available, that is) and results beforehand.
1. Bogus ride: April 19, 2012, Abu Dhabi. Alleged completions: 36/40. Duplicate results taken from: December 4, 2010, Dubai, from 2nd to 50th places; Officials (excluding line and treatment vets) Sheikh, Al Hadrami, Abrahams, Sommerseth, Al Harrasi, Peperkorn.
2. May 12, 2012, Abu Dhabi; 11/17; taken from January 13, 2012, Dubai, 12th to 27th place; Sheikh, Al Hadrami, Abrahams, Sommerseth, Al Harrasi, Peperkorn. No PDF schedule on FEI database at the time. Late arranged 160k qualifier for Euston 2012 world championships
3. November 4, 2012, Dubai; 65/70; taken from Bou Thib, November 3, 2012, 2nd to 67th places; Sheikh, Al Hadrami, Abrahams, Sommerseth, Al Harrasi, Peperkorn, Tweissi, Daneri. No PDF schedule on FEI database.
4. November 23, 2012, Abu Dhabi; 10/10; taken from Bou Thib, November 3, 2012, 17th to 26th; Sheikh, Al Hadrami, Abrahams, Sommerseth, Al Harrasi, Peperkorn, Tweissi, Daneri; foreign vet delegate not listed; no PDF schedule on FEI database. All 10 horses from Al Wathba Stables.
5. December 28, 2012, Al Wathba; 33/39; taken from December 8, 2012, Abu Dhabi, 33rd place onwards; officials – none listed; no PDF schedule on FEI database.
6. February 23, 2013; 21/23; taken from December 14, 2012, 2nd place onwards’ Sheikh, Al Hadrami, Abrahams, Sommerseth, Tweissi.
7. March 2, 2013, Abu Dhabi; 14/14; taken from January 25, 2013, 4th place onwards; Sheikh, Hadrami, Abrahams, Sommerseth, Tweissi, Peperkorn. Venue on schedule is listed as Abu Dhabi or Dubai; no schedule for 120k ride.
8. May 22, 2013,Dubai; 22/25; taken from December 4, 2012, Dubsai, 5th place onwards; Sheikh, Hadrami, Abrahams, Sommerseth, Al Balushi, Tweissi, Peperkorn; schedule updated three times, on April 23, May 2 and May 6.
9. December 26-27, 2013, Dubai; 36/36; taken from December 17, 2013, Dubai, 9th onwards; Sommerseth, Sheikh, Abrahams, Al Harrasi, Buluchi Salim, Tweissi, Peperkorn, Daneri; schedule amended from 120k** to 80k on November 18, 2013; All 36 horses from HRM stables.
10. January 19, 2014 Abu Dhabi; 30/35; taken from January 22, 2014, Abu Dhabi, from 8th place; Sommerseth, Sheikh, Abrahams, Zubi Haider, Al Harrasi, Al Hammad, Peperkorn, Tweissi; unusual in duplicating data from a race that took place after it.
11. February 23, 2014; 14/14; taken from January 24, 2014, from 15th place, mostly alternates; Sommerseth, Sheikh, Bolshakova, Al Harrasi, Tweissi, Daneri, Peperkorn, Suryawanshy; all 14 horses from MRM stables.
12. December 23, 2014; 47/51; taken from November 21, 2014, from 10th-56th place; Haider, Abdulrahim, Al Baloushi, Al Hammad (listing Incomplete). By now, under new rules, UAE federation employees prohibited from officiating.
13. January 21, 2015 Dubai; 41/45; taken from December 19, 2014, at intervals from 13th place, Haider, Al Bloushi, Al Hajiri Oweida, Al Hammad, Thejasvi Jannapura; schedule updated one week before alleged race.