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Déjà vu, Baku... From Damascus and Villeneuve-Loubet to the Tokyo Olympics?

Friday, 17 January 2020

Illustration photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Tokyo 2020: A big goal for many riders. Individuals had until 31st of December 2019 to qualify through the Olympic Rankings. Illustration photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping


Text © World of Showjumping



In February 2012, the FEI Tribunal gave a decision in a case involving the Azerbaijan Equestrian Federation and the FEI. The Azerbaijan Equestrian Federation filed an appeal against the decision of the FEI Secretary General that had annulled all world ranking points obtained at two international shows – a CSI4* and a CSI2* – in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2011.

During 2011, there had been eight international events organised by the Azerbaijan Equestrian Federation – compared to two in the two previous years. The FEI concluded that the events had been organised to facilitate the rise on the world ranking of Azerbaijan’s leading jumping athlete at the time – in order to have him qualified for the Olympic Games in London in 2012. The FEI did not object to the number of events but saw the integrity of the sport biased by the fact that foreign riders were not invited, which placed these shows in violation of the FEI rules and regulations. 

While the FEI Tribunal, for a number of reasons listed in the decision, granted the Azerbaijan Equestrian Federation’s appeal in regard to the CSI4* show – the result was the opposite for the CSI2* where the appeal was rejected. For the CSI4* show the annulled ranking points were reinstated, for the CSI2* the points remained annulled. 

If there was a lesson to be learned from this case, it must have been that the FEI should be vigilant when there is a sudden increase of international events in a particular region – even more so in a year when a qualification for the Olympic Games can be obtained. Back in 2012, the FEI Jumping Director declared to the FEI Tribunal that “he did not get suspicious originally when the AZE-NF proposed eight (8) International Events on the Calendar instead of the usual two (2) per year. He thought that this number of Events was part of the development of equestrian events in that region.”

2019, a year of Olympic qualification. Fifteen individual spots will be distributed to National Olympic Committees through the FEI Olympic Ranking. The FEI Olympic Ranking is limited to the best 15 results per horse-and-rider combination in ranking competitions within the period from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019. 

December 2019 is a busy month in Villeneuve-Loubet, France. They host three CSI2* shows at the venue. All of them are additions to the FEI calendar, all with schedules that are subject to change after FEI approval. The changes include two additional world ranking classes for each show, rather than the one listed in the original version of the schedule –all added after the deadlines for definite entries. Other changes include invitations to the national federations of Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Sri Lanka. 

Villeneuve-Loubet is no stranger to hosting international events. Early in 2019, they ran a string of six CSI2*, CSI1* and CSIYH1* shows. Thirty athletes were invited, from all national federations. However, for the CSI2* shows in December 2019, as well as for the ones scheduled for January and February 2020, the number of invited athletes has shrunk to twenty. Eight are home athletes, twelve are foreign athletes. The FEI-approved schedules for the events list Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, North Macedonia, Malta, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia and Uzbekistan among the national federations invited. For some of the shows, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Sri Lanka also received a late invitation. Countries close by, such as Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Great Britain are not on the list. 

During the December and January 2019/2020 events, there have been between five to nine riders in each 1.45m world ranking class in Villeneuve-Loubet. Riders have been able to earn ranking points despite plenty of penalty scores. In fact, one of the riders in the 1.45m on December 14th earned his first and only ten points for the world ranking after leaving the ring on 28 faults. 

The few riders who have been in Villeneuve-Loubet have climbed considerably on the world ranking. One as many as 401 spots up from November to December 2019, with six of his eight counting results being earned in Villeneuve-Loubet during the last month of the year. 

For Sri Lanka’s Mathilda Karlsson her three weeks in Villeneuve-Loubet in December 2019 also paid off. In November, she and her horse Chopin VA were ranked 7th on the Olympic Ranking for Group G (South East Asia, Oceania) with 150 points. In December, they had increased their points to 345 – racing past Hong Kong’s Kenneth Cheng on 306 points, who was sitting second the month before. Nine out of Karlsson’s 15 counting results for the Olympic Ranking are from the December 2019 events in Villeneuve-Loubet. The National Olympic Committees (NOCs) of the two highest ranked athletes in this group will be qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo with one rider each.

Far away from France, in war-torn Syria, the city of Damascus hosted ten CSI2* shows last year alone. Nine of them were held from the end of October throughout December, all were additions to the calendar. In comparison, the city hosted one CSI2* and one CSI4* during the period 2012 to 2018.

Around ten national federations have been invited to the events in Damascus, and the number of athletes has been set to 100 – 80 home athletes and 20 foreign athletes. But who would travel to Syria to compete? Looking at the US Department of State’s official travel advisory, it is currently at the highest possible warning level and states: "Do not travel to Syria due to terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict." The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office also advise against all travel to Syria, and the list goes on. 

Syria’s Ahmad Saber Hamcho and Jordan’s Ibrahim Hani Bisharat top the last ranking in Olympic Group F (Middle East & Africa). Seven of Hamcho’s fifteen counting results for the Olympic Ranking come from the events in Damascus, while Bisharat’s 13 of 15 counting results come from these shows. The world ranking classes in Damascus have had around ten riders competing in them, some with two horses each. Also from this group, the NOCs of the two highest ranked athletes will be qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo with one individual quota place each.

What has been done in Damascus and Villeneuve-Loubet is not against the rules, and it’s nothing new either. There are no minimum requirements as to the number of athletes an organising committee has to invite. Neither are there any requirements as to the invited national federations’ geographical location. In other words, the organising committees are free to organise international shows for a limited number of riders from whichever national federations they prefer to invite – practically excluding others. However, the FEI General Regulations article 100 nr. 1 state that “The General Regulations (GRs) are established so that individual Athletes and teams of Athletes from different National Federations (NFs) may compete against each other under fair and equal conditions (...)".

For three riders, competing in Damascus and Villeneuve-Loubet has resulted in their swift ascent to the top of their group's Olympic rankings. For others in a meteoric rise on the world rankings – just in time for February when the new CSI Invitation Rules enter into force alongside the online entry system. From that moment on, riders will get invitations according to their position on the world ranking. Those that got the opportunity to earn ranking points in Damascus and Villeneuve-Loubet made sure to position themselves well, just ahead of the launch. 

The FEI has not yet confirmed the NOC individual places for the Olympic Games because they may yet change if any qualified teams drop out. Nonetheless, world ranking classes with a limited number of riders present advantages to those that are given the opportunity to compete. It has been discussed many times before. In January 2020, that advantage also came in the form of enhanced Olympic prospects. 

Third on the Olympic Ranking for Group F is United Arab Emirates’ Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi. He has earned his results throughout the Arab League World Cup events – all 3*, 4* and 5* shows – and in 4*, 3* and 2* competitions in Münster, Lier and Valencia. Third in Group G is Hong Kong’s Kenneth Cheng, who earned his results throughout seven various 3* and 2* events in China – some of them China League World Cup shows. 

If Olympic participation is at stake, there is a history of appeals and protests being lodged when the opinion is that a competitor unfairly has qualified on the cost of someone else. Some go to the FEI Tribunal, some all the way to the Court of Arbitration of Sports. 

While the FEI at this stage will not communicate the list of individual quota places for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, they have sent out the following statement:

“The FEI is currently looking into this, and we have also received questions, but to clarify:

The list of individual quotas is not established yet and has not been communicated as NOCs have until 3 February 2020 to confirm their allocated team quota place. If an NOC withdraws its team quota place by this date, or did not confirm its NOC Certificate of Capability as of 31 December 2019, the NOC will be eligible for an individual quota place and this may influence the individual quotas as established through the Olympic rankings.

The FEI will only communicate by 17 February the list of individual quotas, both the individual slot for each NOC that has withdrawn their team quota place and the allocation of individual quota places based on the Olympic rankings.

The Olympic Rankings – Jumping is based on the best 15 results per athlete/horse combination. Points are given according to the scale of points depending on the number of starters and level of competitions. For example, if there were between 5 and 9 riders, only 60% of the points are given, and if there are 4 or less then no points are given.

Athletes obtain Olympic ranking points in FEI Events approved in the FEI Calendar and where Schedules were approved by the FEI.”

To World of Showjumping, International Jumping Riders Club Director Eleonora Ottaviani has made the following statement: 

“The IJRC have asked the FEI to intervene to ensure fair play and the fair development of jumping events. 

In order to preserve the credibility of our sport and competitions, it is important to respect Art. 100 of the FEI General Regulations that establish that "Athletes may compete against each other under fair and equal conditions” and to act not only in respect of the rules, but also "in respect of Athletes, Teams, IFs (FEI), NFs, and fans”, as stated by the Olympic Charter.

We are hoping that the appropriate authorities will analyze this issue thoroughly and that the right decisions will be made. 

IJRC also asked the FEI Jumping Department to organize a Longines Ranking Working Group meeting asap, in order to address this.

In case you want to report anything suspicious you can contact the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit (ECIU): Confidential hotline on +44 (0) 20 7935 5822 or mail to [email protected].

You can all look at the website, where it is clearly stated that as an athlete, you have a responsibility to know the rules. 

  • You must NEVER bet on your own sport, the YOG or the Olympic Games.
  • You must ALWAYS report an approach to manipulate a competition, or anything suspicious. Talk to someone you trust or to your federation, or contact the IOC hotline:" 



No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping 


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