HSI defends decision to back EGM on FEI presidency

Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) has defended its support for an EGM to vote on extending to three the number of terms the president of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) can serve.

The EGM will take place in April 29, following successful lobbying at the recent FEI general assembly that saw a petition signed by 100 of the FEI’s 132 national federations.

It was, in effect, a bid to ensure Princess Haya remained in office, though she has stressed she has no interest in doing so, and it came as a surprise, as it had been speculated in the run-up to the assembly the Jordanian royal would, in fact, be asked to resign over welfare concerns in endurance riding in the Middle East, along with doping controversies surrounding her husband Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The backing for the EGM came after the endurance strategic planning group, set up by Haya in July, came back with measures that proved more stringent than expected.

HSI chairman Patrick Wall said that while Ireland supported the convening of an EGM, Haya had indicated she would not be seeking a third four-year term.

“After the EGM, if the articles are changed she may then declare and there will be an election and she may or may not be elected... Whether Princess Haya does, or not, will remain to be seen. She may not, as apparently she is very busy in her role as a UNICEF ambassador and, in her humanitarian work, she co-ordinates relief efforts all over the globe, including to Syrian refugees affected by the civil war and to the stricken people of the recent Philippine typhoon,” said Wall.

“Apparently, there are more changes necessary to leave the FEI on a firm footing and if the possibility that Princess Haya may stay for a third term exists, constituents may be more likely to pay attention to her and she will be more effective in the last 12 months of her current term. Then, whether she declares or not, she will have remained effective up to the finishing post.”

Wall also said Haya had attracted huge money into the sport. “She has been good for the FEI in that she got the Longines sponsorship, €120 million over 10 years, the Furusiyya nations cup sponsorship [from the Saudi Equestrian Fund], and got €40 million for the new FEI HQ [named after her father King Hussein I], so she has got a good track record.”

Asked if it was judicious that any one person should serve more than two terms, Wall said: “I'm not sure, it would all depend on the contribution they are making.”

Haya has come under scrutiny as a result of the welfare issues surrounding endurance riding in the Middle East, plus a possible conflict of interest through being the second wife of Sheikh Mohammed. Controversy has surrounded the ruler of Dubai after horses at his Godolphin racing set-up tested positive for banned substances, along with a subsequent seizure of unlicensed veterinary material labelled as “horse tack” on the Dubai government jet, while medical products, none of which had been approved for use on horses in Britain, were discovered at an endurance yard associated with the sheikh.

Haya has rejected there is a conflict of interest, saying that throughout her terms in office she “has delegated authority to the vice-presidents to deal with any issues related to endurance that might involve a possible conflict”. Incredibly, however, she was initially appointed by the sheikh to head up an internal investigation into what he termed the “management failures” at his operations, though former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Stevens has since taken over.

Debate continued this week, though, with an open letter from five members of the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC), the country’s governing body, referring to “the growing toxic nature of the FEI controversy”.

The five members claimed “there are significant rumblings in Europe about the formation of a new international equestrian association to promote endurance riding worldwide that will truly make horse welfare paramount”, adding that “if FEI does not act, then AERC should consider severing current ties and developing new ties with a new international association”.

They also claimed that “while there are many anecdotal reports of multiple horse fatalities at FEI endurance rides abroad, FEI refuses to release fatality statistics”.

- As a counterpoint, there was good news on the endurance front for Ireland, with Tom McGuinness finishing runner-up in the 160km race in Uruguay on his own Horseware LR Artista.

The result edges the Horseware founder towards a place in next year’s World Equestrian Games and comes following a similar result in the Pan American Games 120km race last month.

lDenis Lynch and Mark McAuley are in Qatar this weekend for the final of the Longines Global Champions Tour.

Lynch lies 21st in the rankings, failing to build on a good start that saw him place fourth in the Madrid opener.

The 37-year-old has earned just over €57,000 on the tour this year, over a third of last year’s total earnings, but with €1.75m on offer this weekend, the Tipperary rider will not be short of incentive to finish as he began the season.

Italy-based Louth native McAuley’s best result came in London on Par Trois, but tomorrow he will saddle up the nine-year-old gelding Isco De Amorande.

- Sue Shortt has quit as High Performance Coach for the Irish Pony Eventing team to become manager for the Yulong, Shanxi Province eventing team in China.

In a statement issued by HSI, the Kildare woman said “to work with the team in China on a full-time basis was too good to turn down”. She was unavailable yesterday to expand on this.

In April of last year, HSI chief executive Damian McDonald was part of a delegation led by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney that visited China. McDonald said the market for Irish horses there was full of potential.

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