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FEI Tribunal dismisses athletes’ appeals on Villeneuve-Loubet decision

Wednesday, 17 June 2020
FEI Tribunal

The FEI Tribunal has dismissed appeals lodged by jumping athletes Andrea Herck (Romania) and Mathilda Karlsson (Sri Lanka) against the FEI’s decision to annul results from competitions held in Villeneuve-Loubet, France, that counted towards the Longines ranking as well as the Olympic ranking. 

The FEI’s decision, announced on 17th of February this year, followed an investigation by the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit (ECIU). The investigation was launched after concerns were raised about the integrity of the events in Villeneuve-Loubet. 

An extract of the decision from the FEI read as follows:

“The investigation into the three events at Villeneuve-Loubet in December 2019 has established that, contrary to the FEI Rules (Article 110.2.3 of the FEI General Regulations), two competitions counting for the Olympic and Longines Rankings were added at each event after the respective Definite Entries deadlines. The updated Schedules for these three events were submitted to the FEI by the French National Federation and were mistakenly approved by the FEI.

As a result, and in accordance with Article 112.3 of the FEI General Regulations, the FEI has retrospectively removed these additional competitions, meaning that athletes who participated will lose their ranking points from these competitions. The Olympic and Longines Rankings have been updated accordingly.

Additionally, the FEI has established that three of the six events at Villeneuve-Loubet in January 2020 also had two classes counting for Longines Rankings points added after the Definite Entries deadline, again contrary to the FEI Rules. As a result, these additional competitions have been removed and athletes that participated will lose their ranking points for these competitions.”

Andrea Herck – who is the son of the organiser of the events in Villeneuve-Loubet – had risen up 226 spots on the world ranking from December 2019 to February 2020 after collecting 805 of his then 1100 counting points at seven CSI2* shows at the venue, held between 13th of December 2019 to 26th of January 2020. He appealed the FEI's decision to the Tribunal. As did Mathilda Karlsson, who dropped from second to seventh on the Olympic ranking for South East Asia, Oceania following the FEI's decision to annul the points  – with Sri Lanka losing its individual quota slot for Tokyo. Nine out of Karlsson’s 15 counting results for the Olympic ranking had been from the December 2019 events in Villeneuve-Loubet.

On 16th of June, the FEI Tribunal concluded that there were justified circumstances to cancel the ranking points for the Villeneuve-Loubet events. Furthermore, the Tribunal found that the integrity of the sport and the rankings had to supersede the interest of two individual riders to keep their points.

“This is an important decision to ensure the integrity of the sport, and particularly the Olympic and Longines Rankings,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said in a statement.

It was in early March this year that Herck and Karlsson – the latter alongside the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association – submitted their appeals against the FEI’s decision. The FEI Tribunal Chair decided to consolidate the proceedings. 

In short, the appellants submitted that: 

  • The FEI’s decision to annul the points obtained should be confirmed as null and void by the Tribunal 
  • The decision should be annulled by the Tribunal
  • The points should be reinstated by the Tribunal  

In conclusion, the appellants claimed that the ECIU and the FEI had not established any alleged irregularities that justified the Secretary General‘s decision. The appellants' submissions and the FEI’s replies to these are detailed in length in the Tribunal’s decision, as are the findings of the ECIU report.

Contrary to the appellants’ submission, the Tribunal stated that the FEI Secretary General – pursuant to the FEI Statues art. 28.2 and the General Regulations (GR) art. 112.3 – has the authority to remove any competition from the calendar and to annul ranking points for specific competitions for “justified circumstances” or under “specific circumstances”. 

The Tribunal confirmed that the FEI should not have approved the schedules which contained additional Longines ranking competitions, after the deadline for definite entries. “The FEI recognised and confirmed that this was their mistake,” the Tribunal stated. 

Furthermore, the Tribunal agreed with the FEI that the late additions of the Longines ranking competitions accepted by the FEI Jumping Department contrary to the rules “(…) completely transformed the nature of the Villeneuve-Loubet Events by instantly tripling the total number of Longines Ranking and Olympic Ranking points available (…)”. The Tribunal stated that this could not be considered as a minor change to the schedule, but a change that impacted the nature and the status of those respective events. The Tribunal also stated that contrary to the appellants’ submissions, it was satisfied that there were very few events where the FEI accepted Longines ranking competitions to be added after the closing date for entries – pointing out that this was not an FEI policy or common practice, but rather rare incidents where the FEI had made mistakes. 

Having established that the relevant competitions counting for Longines and Olympic ranking points at the Villeneuve-Loubet events had been added to the schedules contrary to FEI rules and regulations, the Tribunal went on to decide whether the Secretary General had justified circumstances to remove the competitions and cancel the ranking points. The Tribunal noted that while the rules do not contain any definition of the term, putting the integrity of the sport into jeopardy could certainly be classified as  such “justified circumstances”.

The Tribunal’s deliberations in this regard, read as follows: “In the case at hand, the Tribunal finds that this was indeed the case. Article 1.3 of the Statutes and Article 100 of the GRs mandate the FEI to ensure that athletes and teams from different nations can compete in international events under “fair and even” or “fair and equal” conditions. While the conditions were the same for Mr. Herck and Ms. Karlsson, as well as for the other small number of athletes who competed at the Villeneuve-Loubet Events, this was not the case for those athletes who would have wished to participate in the respective events once the additional Longines rankings competitions had been added. In fact, they could no longer enter these events, unless they were accepted or invited by the Organiser. The Tribunal agrees with the FEI that, the “invisible athletes” to use the FEI’s term, were disadvantaged by adding the Longines ranking competitions after the Closing Date for Entries, as they could no longer enter via their NFs or earn ranking points; at that point in time they were at the mercy of the Organiser’s good will. In the case at hand the ranking points were earned at competitions were FEI Rules were not followed. Further, the Tribunal agrees with the concerns of the IJRC who endorsed the Decision. Therefore, the Tribunal finds that there existed justified circumstances to cancel those Longines/Olympic ranking points for those events where Longines ranking competitions were added after the Closing Date for Entries, as the Secretary General did, and as described in the Decision.” 

The Tribunal dismissed the appellants’ arguments that legitimate expectations provided grounds for them to keep the ranking points earned in Villeneuve-Loubet. “The Tribunal wishes to point out that a decision which was contrary to the regulations, such as the FEI accepting modifications of the respective Schedules at a time when they were no longer allowed, cannot create any legitimate expectations of riders, or any other persons, including the Organiser. Even if this was not the case, the Tribunal had to balance the interests of the sport and all athletes with the interests of the Appellants. The Tribunal finds that the integrity of the sport and the rankings supersedes the interests of two individual riders to keep their ranking points.”

The Tribunal also pointed out that it does not matter who brings a complaint forward to the FEI. “In fact, the FEI should encourage the equestrian community to report any cases where they believe FEI Rules and Regulations have been violated in any way,” the Tribunal stated. Furthermore, the Tribunal mentioned that as the FEI itself had breached the rules, an internal investigation into the wrongdoings should be initiated in order to put procedures in place to ensure that rules and regulations are followed by the FEI itself. “It remains undisputed that the riders bore no fault for these violations and did not violate the rules themselves,” the Tribunal stated. 

The decision can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within twenty-one days.

 

Click here to read the full decision.

 



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