by Fran Jurga | 29 May 2009 | The Jurga Report
The popularity of horse sport in Germany is illustrated by the placement of this billboard in an inner city neighborhood. Flickr image courtesy of Fraencko.
The FEI, the world's governing body of equestrian sport, spoke today, after yesterday's shocking announcement that Germany was disbanding its national equestrian teams. Even as the European championships approach this summer and the World Equestrian Games (WEG) looms for 2010, a deepening scandal surrounding attitudes as well as actions by German riders, veterinarians and perhaps other officials in an attempt to deliver gold medals at Hong Kong during last summer's Olympics.
That's what was going on in Germany. Meanwhile, next door at the world headquarters of F?d?ration Equestre Internationale (FEI), in Switzerland, the case moved forwarded on legal and administrative legs that horse sports have never known before.
As some background: on Thursday, the FEI Headquarters filed a protest with the FEI Tribunal on the basis of widely reported admissions by German show jumper Marco Kutscher and veterinarian Bj?rn Nolting concerning the undeclared treatment given to Marco Kutscher's horse, Cornet Obolensky, at the 2008 Olympic Games and the circumstances surrounding this treatment including the collapse of the horse, which subsequently took part in competition.
If that is correct, after the horse collapsed from its medication, Kutscher still rode him in the Olympics. Compare that to the top British team horse, Portofino, that was scratched "to be safe" before the vet check because he seemed off but was fine on the competition day but, of course, not allowed to compete.
The FEI's protest requests the provisional suspension of these individuals from any FEI activities pending the results of its investigation. It also requests the provisional suspension of Hanfried Haring, FEI Bureau Member, judge and former Secretary General of the German NF, of his responsibilities on the FEI governing body, on the basis that he had knowledge of the relevant facts and did not report them to the relevant authorities.
The FEI had already appointed a three-member ethics panel to look into the German team doping scandal at the 2008 Olympics; the panel includes US Equestrian Federation President David O'Connor.
The panel is headed by London's former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens. If his name sounds familiar, he was oft quoted in the tabloids and on television as he was the head investigator of the death of Princess Diana. In 2006, Lord Stevens and his investigation/security firm, Quest, investigated player corruption in the Premier League of British football, among other things. Sports scandals seem to be one of his specialties.
Today's statement's key sentence may be: "The Panel has considered some preliminary information and is of the opinion that there may have been breaches of FEI rules by riders, team officials and National Federation representatives, and concludes that it should continue to carry out a detailed investigation in order to make specific recommendations to the FEI President on these matters."
The rather long and legalish statement of the FEI today states that the FEI is more or less removing itself from the scandal and Quest is taking over the investigation on behalf of the FEI. As you can imagine, the FEI wants to know who knew what, and when he or she knew it---not only on the German team and within the German federation, but within the FEI.
The statement reads: "In the interests of efficiency and speed, the Panel members considered that the gathering of further information and evidence should be carried out by expert professional investigators. Quest was chosen for this purpose. The Panel Chair is also the Chairman of Quest, and, therefore, the selection was made by the other members of the Panel, and without participation of the Chair."
In other words, ethics panel members O'Connor plus Ken Lalo, chairman of the FEI Tribunal, and John Roche, FEI Director of Jumping, have turned over the investigation to the chairman, but this was done without the involvement of the chair during that decision.
More intrigue filtered out of Germany today, including a clouding factor that the television contract for German showjumping is up for negotiation and that the embarrassment of Germans caught breaking doping rules at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics is not attractive to sponsors, no matter how popular the sport may be with viewers.
UPS sponsors show jumping in Germany and I checked today: they still have suspended show jumper Ludger Beerbaum on their web site. In one German newspaper, he was interviewed as saying that this would all blow over and he'd be back on the team soon.
This all sounds straight from one of those high-brow British detective mysteries on PBS that I love so much. It's just too bad it's the real world and the credibility of our horse sports is at stake.