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Ranking points reinstated for Andrea Herck and Mathilda Karlsson after successful appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Mathilda Karlsson and the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association were heard with their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has issued its decision in the appeal arbitration procedures between Romanian showjumper Andrea Herck, Sri Lankan showjumper Mathilda Karlsson, the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association and the FEI. The CAS Panel issued its decision on Tuesday 19th of April, in which it upheld the appeals filed by Herck, Karlsson and the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association. CAS ruled that all competitive results obtained by Herck and Karlsson at the CSI2* events in Villeneuve-Loubet, France, between 13 December 2019 and 26 January 2020, including any points earned counting for the Longines Ranking and the Olympic Ranking, are to be reinstated. As a consequence of the CAS decision, Karlsson is back as rank two in the Olympic Group for South East Asia, Oceania, with her horse Chopin VA and has earned her national federation an individual quota slot for the Olympic Games in Tokyo later this year. 

Karlsson and the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association were represented by Mr. Luc Schelstraete and Mr. Piotr Wawrzyniak of Schelstraete Law Firm from the Netherlands, who in a statement commented on the decision: “It is a landmark decision for the equestrian sports as this CAS decision illustrates that the FEI’s discretionary powers are limited and that the FEI needs to observe utmost care in approving equestrian events where ranking points are to be earnt. All this for the benefit of the riders.”

The dispute between Herck, Karlsson, the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association and the FEI began in February 2020, when the FEI announced that an investigation into three events held in Villeneuve-Loubet in December 2019 had established that two competitions counting for the Olympic and Longines Rankings were added for each event after the respective deadlines for definite entries – contrary to the FEI rules. The FEI admitted that the updated schedules for these three events were mistakenly approved by the FEI. Nevertheless, the FEI retrospectively removed these additional competitions – with reference to the FEI General Regulations article 112.3. As a consequence, the athletes who participated lost their ranking points from these competitions. Additionally, the FEI established that three of the six events in Villeneuve-Loubet in January 2020 also had two classes counting for the Longines Rankings added after the deadline for definite entries – again contrary to the FEI rules. As a result, these additional competitions were also removed. 

Herck – who is the son of the organizer 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. Herck appealed the FEI's decision to the FEI Tribunal. As did 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 were from the December 2019 events in Villeneuve-Loubet.

However, the appeals against the FEI’s decision to annul the results were dismissed by the FEI Tribunal. On 16th of June 2020, the 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 following the Tribunal’s decision. 

Later that same month, Herck, Karlsson and the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association filed appeals to CAS. 

A press release from the FEI regarding the CAS decision details: 

"In its ruling, the Panel noted that the “protection of the integrity of FEI's events and competitions will be much more effective if they may also be cancelled retroactively, because - in many cases - the circumstances giving rise to integrity or ethical issues (such as betting, bribery or match fixing) will only become known through information that transpires as late as during or after the event”. 

The Panel confirmed that Article 112.3 of the FEI General Regulations gives the FEI Secretary General the authority to remove events or competitions even with retroactive effect, providing an “effective instrument” to intervene when the FEI “becomes aware of circumstances jeopardising the integrity of an event without the FEI having had any chance to prevent such circumstances before or during the affected event”. However, the Panel ruled that it was not the purpose of Article 112.3 “to allow the FEI to retroactively rectify mistakes which entirely stem from its own sphere”, referencing the “human error” at the FEI that had resulted in approval of the updated Schedules. 

The Panel referred to the two-stage approval process (National Federation and the FEI) which should ensure that “only those schedules are approved which are compliant with the relevant rules and regulations for FEI events”. While acknowledging that there had been a violation of FEI Rules, the Panel declared “the rule violation would never have occurred without the FEI's erroneous authorisation of the Updated Schedules. The Organiser could not have implemented the updates without permission of both the FFE and FEI.”

The CAS Panel ruled that as the FEI had failed to establish "justified circumstances" for the removal of the competitions, the prerequisites of Article 112.3 were not fulfilled and that, as a consequence, the FEI decision as well as the appealed decision of the FEI Tribunal are unlawful and must be reversed."

Adding more detailed information from the CAS decision, Schelstraete Law Firm stated in their own press release that: 

"The CAS also reconfirms that Mathilda Karlsson as athlete bears no fault or guilt in the matter. 

The CAS protects the position of the athlete and rules that the FEI may not keep other parties like the athletes, the organizer of the French Federation responsible for its own errors, mistakes and faults. The CAS observes that the FEI’s own negligence caused the rule violation in the approval process of the official schedules of the Villeneuve-Loubet events. Therefore, the FEI must stand in for the consequences. The CAS holds that numerous different deadlines applicable under the FEI’s rules and regulations are not easy to understand and it cannot be expected from a rider who reviews the schedules that he or she readily discovers a mistake that two federations (FEI and the French NF) with professionally equipped administrative bodies have overlooked. According to the CAS the FEI as the supreme regulatory body of the equestrian sports must observe utmost care in the approval process of the schedules. Important to note is also that the CAS cleared the organizer of the Villeneuve-Loubet of all unfounded charges and allegations confirming that the organizer handled in full compliance with the applicable FEI Rules and Regulations. 

As a consequence of the CAS decision an individual quota place for the Jumping Competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to take place in July-August 2021 is now confirmed in favor of Mathilda Karlsson."

Commenting on the CAS decision, FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said: “This is a very disappointing result for the FEI, but we respect the decision as we knew that mistakes were made and the CAS decision is based on that. When we decided to annul the Villeneuve-Loubet results in order to do the right thing from a sports integrity perspective, we knew there was a possibility we could lose this case on appeal, but we agreed it was a risk worth taking."

“However, we have been proactive in addressing the issues and in February 2020 implemented the online invitation system for FEI Jumping events that introduced a quota system for CSI 2* for the first time, but the rules were not in effect at the time of the events in question," Ibáñez continued. "In addition, Organisers of CSI2* events that wish to include competitions counting for the Longines Rankings must now invite a minimum of 50 athletes and the FEI is also reviewing the scale of Olympic Ranking points based on the number of participants in competitions.”

As a result of the CAS decision, the FEI has announced that the Longines Ranking is to be recalculated and there are also changes to the individual quotas for this year’s Olympic Games, as Sri Lanka now has an individual place for Tokyo. Hong Kong, which had been allocated an individual slot for jumping following the removal of the Villeneuve-Loubet results by the FEI, is now the first reserve for Tokyo in the Olympic Group for South East Asia, Oceania. The final list of competing nations at the Tokyo Olympic Games will be confirmed on 5 July 2021.

The full version of the CAS decision has not yet been published. 

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