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Sophie Dubourg says the French Equestrian Federation alerted the FEI about Villeneuve-Loubet-schedules in September 2019

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans Sophie Dubourg. Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans.

At the beginning of the week, the FEI made an announcement regarding the series of CSI2* competitions organized in Villeneuve-Loubet, France in December 2019 to January 2020 as well as in Damascus, Syria in October to December 2019. 

As previously reported by World of Showjumping, this repetition of CSI2 * shows in Villeneuve-Loubet – seven in total over the course of two months – enabled a small group of riders to climb dramatically on the world ranking and on the Olympic ranking. Following a FEI investigation, it was however decided that several of the competitions would be removed from both the Olympic ranking and the world ranking meaning that riders who had participated lost their ranking points. The FEI said it had “mistakenly approved” the additions of the world ranking competitions – that were added in the schedules after the respective deadlines for definite entries. The FEI said this was contrary to the FEI General Regulations Article 110.2.3. 

The French equestrian website Grand Prix Replay spoke with Sophie Dubourg, National Technical Director at the French Equestrian Federation (FFE), about the FFE’s responsibilities in regard to the approval of the schedules. With their consent, World of Showjumping presents Dubourg’s points of view. 


Text © Grand Prix Replay written by Marion Mauger


What role has the FFE played in the approval of the schedules in these international competitions?

“First of all, the French Equestrian Federation is obviously very aware of this problem. We have been in dialog with the FEI about this subject for several weeks, and it has also been under investigation by an independent firm – not only the competitions in Damascus, Syria, but also those of Villeneuve-Loubet, France. Although these competitions were organized under the FEI’s responsibility, the specifications were given by the FEI via the FFE – hence the FFE has been involved in the investigation.

Since September, we have been surprised by the schedules for the shows organized in Villeneuve-Loubet. As the shows were primarily reserved for a list of countries in which France (as host nation) was not included, we asked the FEI about the regulatory validity of these schedules. Then, the FEI asked the organizer to add France to the list.

Secondly, the number of riders was limited to twenty and we realized that the French riders' requests to participate at these shows were rejected by the organizer. The original schedule did not encourage them to enter as these shows were CSI2* with only one competition counting for the world ranking and very little prize money. Moreover, despite the venue’s quality, it has not been very popular with French riders in recent years – due to other problems.

Finally, once the deadline for definite entries for these shows had expired, the organizer asked the FFE to add two to three competitions counting for the world ranking. Since we have to act in complete transparency, the FFE forwarded these requests to the FEI – that approved them for the three CSI2* shows in December. When French riders realized that these competitions had been added to the schedules, which also immediately increased the prize money, they made late requests to enter for the shows.

In this case – according to the regulations – the organizer has all the power to accept or reject the entries. The national federations no longer have a say in the selection of riders. Systematically, the organizer refused the late entries. When the riders were determined, the organizer contacted them to dissuade them from participating. I have collected several testimonies of this nature. From a regulatory point of view, after the date for definite entries, the organizer does not have to justify himself – so in December the tension rose. 

As it was observed that the riders who could participate at the shows in Villeneuve-Loubet were able to jump hundreds of places up on the world ranking – or as illustrated by the Sri Lankan rider who obtained Olympic qualification – the riders and the FFE turned to the FEI, as did a journalist from World of Showjumping. There were also problems with an Italian rider. At that stage, riders were looking for individual Olympic qualification which in parts is determined by world ranking competitions, or were trying to get their minimum eligibility requirements. As far as France was concerned, everything was quite in order regarding these points – it was mainly Italy and Sri Lanka that benefited.

Thanks to investigative work, we noticed that riders climbed four or five hundred places on the world ranking – approaching the Top 200, which through the new FEI entry system gives access to certain shows. The firm continued to carry out its investigation, while the FFE testified to the factual elements. In no case did we have to interpret anything. In parallel, the IJRC – owner of the world ranking formula – had officially requested the points earned under such unequal conditions to be annulled. This is what the FEI chose to do, as explained in their press release.

In addition, the FEI transferred some of the responsibility to the FFE – which had asked to add several competitions counting for the world ranking, that were then mistakenly approved by the FEI. I want to temper things, because the FFE already alerted the FEI in September about the schedules from the organizer of Villeneuve-Loubet. The first response we got from the FEI was that invitations had to be added for French riders, and that the rest was in order.

For four months this was bothering us and having to watch what was happening was painful. It was very painful. In terms of numbers, France is the leading country world-wide in organizing international competitions. We must be able to guarantee that this is ethical and that the organization holds a certain quality. For many, what was happening in Villeneuve-Loubet was very obscure and we responded to the many requests we got by saying that we had questioned it to the FEI that told us that everything was in order.

We were surprised by the way the FEI communicated on this because we received a letter from the Secretary General. While the facts were detailed to us, the press release states that the updated schedules “were mistakenly approved by the FEI”. I am surprised by the expressions in this press release, and I hope that it is not in any way an attempt to move responsibility to the FFE which has closely monitored the development of these competitions.”

Did the FFE not have the power to block requests for changes to the Villeneuve-Loubet organization's schedule?

“Not at all, the national federations don't have this power. They simply have the role of mailboxes and information transmitters. Today, we have no way of holding back an organizer. Any request to modify a schedule must be examined. When the first request to modify the schedule was made, there was no breaks on from the FEI. At the third request, we again asked if this was normal – to which the FEI replied that it would take a few days to think about it.

It is not uncommon for us to notice errors in schedules when we check them. Sometimes there are typos, a phone number is missing or an official is not at the right level, for example. This is the responsibility of the FFE. On the other hand, when a schedule has no irregularities, but modifications are to be made to the competitions – this is the FEI’s responsibility.”


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