German Equestrian Team Suspended as Olympic Doping Scandal Escalates in International Spotlight

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by Fran Jurga | 28 May 2009 | The Jurga Report


Die Goldenen Reiter, a huge gilded statue in the city of Dresden, Germany became a symbol of Germany's drive for Olympic gold medals in 2008; Flickr photo by Lanchutt

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Before you read this post, take a minute and watch this wonderful short video:
http://www.die-goldenen-reiter.com/film.html
Make it full screen; turn up the volume. All the way. Hit play.

You see, less than a year ago, I was preparing to blog the Olympics, and the German team sent me a link, so I could watch a terrific music video they had made to pump up the national spirit to get behind the Germans' push to come home with gold medals in all three sports at the Olympics equestrian games in Hong Kong.

I loved the video and its quick edits. I loved the idea of the team members singing along. Loved seeing some of my favorite horses and riders. Really loved the action closeups of the hooves with all those big studs digging into the grass. The song is really catchy. It was a big hit in the 1980s in Germany and the rock star who sang it is an icon--sort of a Billy Joel, German-style.

I watched the little video again after I spent Thursday tracking down the news from Germany and I saw something else, entirely.What do you see?

The international horse sport community will be reeling on Friday as the world wonders what is going on in Germany. And maybe in their own backyards. I wonder, too.

Thursday afternoon, the national equestrian federation of Germany, FN Verlag (FN), announced the suspension of all riders who represented Germany at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong's equestrian events, where Germany won three gold medals. In effect, FN Verlag and the German national sport federation have dissolved, disbanded, and suspended its equestrian teams for FEI-level events. To use one of my favorite German words: "kaput!"

This story began back on May 11, when the FEI reported that German Olympic show jumper Marco Kutscher told German reporters that his horse had been illegally treated with arnica and lactanase during the Olympics at Hong Kong in August. Kutscher's confession and subsequent accusations initiated a cascade of events that will probably not end with Thursday's drastic action, which affects not just jumping but also dressage and eventing. Dressage superstar Isabell Werth even made a callous offhand remark that what she does to her horse is the concern of her and the owner and no one else, thank you very much.

What began as an investigation of a single rider and the team veterinarian is now affecting a dozen riders' careers and reputations.

My German is not the very best, but I think I know what the German press release is saying: each of the riders is going to be thoroughly investigated and must apply to be reinstated. Only after assurance that the rider will be a leader for a clean sport will that rider be allowed to represent Germany ever again. There is no indication of how long this process might take, nor how long the FEI's own investigation might take. There is a comment that time is not a concern.

All this with the World Equestrian Games coming up in just over a year. What more can the FEI do to police the barns and schooling rings? Are veterinarians the advocates of the horse and the rulebook or are they under too much pressure just as the riders are? And just where does that pressure originate?

Germany has been double-shocked by statements made by show jumping champion Ludger Beerbaum this weekend, including his assertion that he would do whatever it took to win and understood that he just was not supposed to get caught. The FN press release mentions Beerbaum--and only Beerbaum--by name.

The scandal reaches higher; FEI Bureau Member, judge and former Secretary General of FN Hanfried Haring has been associated with the scandal and may lose his position.

Be careful about what news sources you check on this story. HorseandHound.co.uk is usually tops for European news and you can follow their headlines via Twitter @horseandhound.

Come on, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and Sixty Minutes. You love a good scandal: do you have a reporter who speaks German? Here's your chance. What can the FEI say in its own defense, that these things have been going on in spite of rules and inspections and tests?

Equestrian sports woke up with two black eyes this morning. The elephant in the room got loose.

To refresh your memory about the Olympics in Hong Kong and the Germans' ups and downs there, please read my Olympic blog: The World Rides in Hong Kong. I feel like I should start the blog up again and write "The Rest of the Story".

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