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IJRC General Assembly 2022: Riders give new FEI elimination regulation chilly reception

Wednesday, 14 December 2022
IJRC

Photo ©  IJRC/F.Petroni An addition to the FEI Jumping Rules article 241 concerning eliminations was at the centre of discussions at the International Jumping Riders Club’s General Assembly in Geneva on Friday, December 9th. Photo © IJRC/F.Petroni.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

An addition to the FEI Jumping Rules article 241 concerning eliminations was at the centre of discussions at the International Jumping Riders Club’s General Assembly in Geneva on Friday, December 9th. Several top riders spoke against the wording of the rule, which was approved at the FEI’s General Assembly back in October and which enters into force next year. In short, the rule gives the President of the Ground Jury sole discretion to eliminate a rider during a round if it would be contrary to the principles of horse welfare to continue. 

“After one of the incidents in Tokyo, we had the media saying: ‘What do you have to stop this?’ ‘Is your sport prepared to stop this?’ We were not,” Marco Fuste, FEI Jumping Director, said. “We did not have a rule to stop it. One thing is, 'have you applied the rule? Yes, or no?' And 'who applies the rule?' But number one is, do you have something to stop these people? And then you get bad media because you cannot stop it.” 

The rule

The addition to article 241, which enters into force on January 1, 2023, reads as follows: 

“The President of the Ground Jury (or in the absence of the President of the Ground Jury from the Ground Jury box, the Ground Jury Member designated by the President of the Ground Jury to take over the running of the Competition in their absence) may, in their sole discretion, ring the bell (or instruct another Ground Jury member to ring the bell) to eliminate an Athlete/Horse combination while a round is ongoing if the President of the Ground Jury (or their designee) decides that it would be contrary to the principles of horse welfare to allow the combination to continue the round. The decision to eliminate is final and not subject to appeal or protest.”

[For the current version of article 241, click here]

The proposed rule change was published by the FEI in mid-October, prior to the FEI General Assembly 2022. In Annex Pt. 15.2 to the FEI General Assembly, the proposal was detailed as follows: 

“It appears that bleeding from one or two nostrils is not covered in current regulations. This was obvious at the last Olympics in Tokyo when an Athlete fulfilled the jumping course despite heavy nose bleeding from the horse and should of course had been stopped by the Judge during the ride and eliminated since the horse was clearly unfit to continue the competition (if a regulation had been in place).

Nose blood can occur from bleeding in upper and/or lower airways (in racing horses not unusual with even lung bleeding, Exercise Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage, EIPH, but usually after exercise). 

To distinguish from a suspected minor bleeding due to a small laceration of a nostril, the horse should be checked by an FEI Veterinarian after the ride.

Nose blood should be a reason for elimination because of the impact on Horse welfare, but also for general perception, i.e., Social License to Operate (SLO).” 

The IJRC was among the stakeholders that provided feedback to the proposal, and wrote: “The IJRC agrees with the Jumping Committee that believes that a broader concept (going beyond just the relatively rare case of blood in the nostrils) is needed in order to give the Ground Jury the clear authority to take action where there are serious horse welfare concerns. (…) It is necessary with a clear definition of the cases leading to elimination.”

For the good of the sport

While the riders present at the IJRC General Assembly seemed to agree that an elimination is unproblematic if there is a case of a horse bursting with blood while in the ring, they had several other concerns about the wording in the rule – calling for guidelines as to which situations potentially can lead to elimination under the reference to ‘principles of horse welfare’. “Maybe we need some guidelines as to when you can be eliminated, not to make it so fully subjective,” Francois Mathy Jr. said about the term.

IJRC Director Eleonora Ottaviani pointed out that, at first, the Club had not been in favour of the rule. “But after, we changed our opinion because it is important that the riders and the Riders Club stand up for the wellbeing of the horses,” she said. “With this acceptance, we really give confidence to the officials. Please be careful to have very good officials that have to decide,” was her message directed at the FEI.

“I think that we have to put a measure in,” Fuste said. “Up to now we had nowhere to stand up, and no rule that would allow a judge to ring the bell. First of all, we have to have the rule, now we have the rule. Now judges have to be trained, and they have to be educated and updated to come up with this rule because it is the responsibility of everybody – riders, judges, everybody – to be on the side of the welfare of the horse. We cannot allow to have bad pictures – for the good of the sport.”

Slippery slope

While the rule proposal reflected on the occurrence of blood, spesifically heavy nose bleeds, the discussion at the IJRC General Assembly quickly took a turn towards the term ‘dangerous riding’. While not a part of the wording in article 341.4, the riders were concerned about how judges will interpret the term ‘contrary to the principles of horse welfare’ and whether dangerous riding also will fall under the scope of the rule. “It’s a very slippery slope, I think that we have to make sure that blood is one thing, but dangerous riding is another,” Rodrigo Pessoa, FEI Athlete Representative, said about the interpretation of the rule. “Before we put it into action, we have to define exactly this dangerous riding situation. Unfortunately, it does happen, and there must be a way to avoid it, but we have to be very conscious that it is very difficult to do. I don’t think anyone wants to be in that position to say; ‘that has to stop.’”

Pessoa was one of the riders that expressed concern about the huge amount of responsibility and power that with this rule is in the hands of the President of the Ground Jury. “You understand the position that you put the judge in?” Pessoa asked Fuste. “You eliminate a team, you eliminate a country; it’s a huge responsibility – that person becomes now the most important person on the showground basically, because he can eliminate you at any moment because he feels it’s not going well from sitting there in the airconditioned box on the second floor. It’s a tough position to be put in, I wouldn’t want to be that judge to decide.”

“I think before this gets in, we need to make sure what your education process is," American Olympian Laura Kraut said to Fuste. "Who is educating these people? I frankly don’t think that a judge sitting up in a box who has not ridden in the last 40 years is the person to do that. I think that needs to be determined before everyone agrees with this rule.”

“We have this type of discussion because this rule appears because of the three riders and no drop-score,” Kevin Staut, IJRC President, said. “Before we never had this problem, because of the drop-score. We knew that if something bad could happen, we could always feel free to retire.”

“I have seen rounds that should have been eliminated in the past. It’s not only the three and no drop-score,” Fuste replied. “Before the Olympics last year – in the past – I have seen things in the ring, and I said ‘this guy should be eliminated’ and he wasn’t – and it was an accident, and it was a bad situation. That’s where this rule should come in.”

Expertise panels

Olympic champion Nick Skelton suggested to introduce a panel that includes ex-riders, similar to what is done in Formula 1. “Would it not be a good idea that in these situations you have three ex-riders – like they do in motor racing – sit in the back of the room, watching the judges judge, and if something like that happens they get together and say ‘ok, ring the bell’. Then you change those riders every ten horses so you are not sitting there for the whole class. I mean, in Tokyo there were so many ex-riders walking about that could be used and utilised, that have a good knowledge of riding."

“They don’t have any conception of the feel of what’s happening,” Pessoa said of the judges.

“I think it is important to make a big difference between championship level and other levels,” Pieter Devos pointed out. “We have to have a panel at championship level, we cannot let a judge make the decision – there must be a big difference between championship level and other levels,” he said. “At championship level, there must be a panel – there must be an option to do it like this – it’s the only way. On the other hand, I think at the lower levels, it is important that there is a rule like the one we are talking about now, but it’s really like Rodrigo said very, very complicated in my opinion to have people who never sat on a horse – with all respect – and let them judge whether people can finish their round or not. I think we really should go for the panel at championship level.”

Public perception

“The impression of the public is important, everywhere,” Fuste emphasised during the discussions – referring to social license to operate. “Before we never had those type of things, now we do. It’s something we have to get used to, the public perception. Before, if you were not there, or if you did not watch it on television, you could not see it. Now it takes one phone and a recording, and put it up in the web and everyone in the world knows. That’s why we have to be very careful with those subjects.”

Louis Konickx, one of the most renowned course builders worldwide and a member of the FEI Jumping Committee, emphasised the importance of coming to terms with the power of the public. “I understand exactly the difficulty with this rule,” he said. “And talking about the judge – I can tell you, in Holland we have even a bigger judge: That’s the public. Also, some months ago, we had again a streaker [Editor’s note: At CSI3* Indoor Friesland in October]. So, we need to solve this in a nice way because otherwise we get judged by the public. And then we are against the wall.”

Common sense

Towards the end of the discussions, Karoly Fugly – FEI Level 4 Jumping Judge and Chair of the FEI Driving Committee – clarified to the riders that there is no mention of either dangerous riding or blood in article 241.4, and that occurrence of blood is regulated in article 241.3.31. “It’s not directly related to the blood rule, and not directly with the wording dangerous riding,” Fugly said about article 241.4. “But for example, if we had a horse on three legs, and the rider wanted to compete – and I’m not talking about the high level, I am talking about the lower-level events – you had no tool as an official to stop. With this one you have. Of course, we have to be able to use it in a good way with common sense, and not abuse the rule.”

“We use this because when we were speaking with the Legal Department, we were referring above all to what happened at the Olympics in Tokyo,” Ottaviani said about why the IJRC were bringing blood and dangerous riding into the discussion of the term ‘contrary to the principles of horse welfare'.

“What I can promise is that we will put this as a high priority into our education program, that will be starting 13-14-15 January in Lisbon, where we will have an International Judges’ Club meeting combined with a refreshing session on the rules,” Fugly said. 

Brazilian rider Eduardo Menezes also emphasised the importance of common sense, as well as how officials need to be held accountable for their decisions – just like the riders. “I think one way to make people have common sense, is to hold them accountable for their decisions – like you as a rider are held accountable for your decisions,” he said. “If you make a bad decision, you can be judged by the rules, by the FEI, you can get suspended – and most of all by the public. Now, the judges should also be held accountable for their decisions.”

“If we are judged by judges and it does not matter if they do right or wrong, nothing happens – they go to the next show, they still charge their fee and life goes on,” Menezes said. “If a judge makes the wrong call, he or she should also be held accountable – you make a wrong call, you also can get a yellow card, a red card, you can also get suspended for two months, six months, two years. Then, at that point, at the Olympic Games, or at any show, if they are going to stop your round, they would think twice, because that could also end their career if they make the wrong call.”

 


Watch the IJRC General Assembly 2022 via this link


 

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