By Jonathan Rest
Ingmar De Vos, the secretary general of the FEI, the international equestrian federation, has criticised Pierre Arnould, a member of the FEI Endurance Committee, after the Belgian national coach publicly called into question the governing body's ability to deal with the escalating doping scandal in Endurance racing.
De Vos, himself a Belgian, said Arnould's comments to a UK newspaper showed "a total lack of respect" for his colleagues on the committee, and indicated that further, potentially legal, action could be taken for a "clear breach" of a non-disclosure document that he signed.
The FEI told Sportcal today that it was "too early" to suggest whether Arnould could be removed from the committee as a result of his outburst, and that "no timeframe" had been set for De Vos to investigate the matter. The FEI general assembly will take place in Montreux, Switzerland from November 4 to 7.
The governing body also confirmed that, in the first instance, Brian Sheahan, chairman of the FEI Endurance Committee, had written to Arnould reminding him of his responsibilities not to speak as a member of the committee "without either mandate or consultation."
Arnould told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that Endurance racing could become extinct if the FEI cannot solve the horse welfare crisis in the Middle East where, as well as doping scandals, a number of horses have died in or after competitions due to stress fractures.
The doping scandal has largely focused on the international Endurance and horse racing operations of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, whose wife is Princess Haya of Jordan, the FEI president.
Arnould said the FEI Endurance Committee agreed "drastic" measures with De Vos in June, including tougher penalties covering horse-owners, federations and officials as well as riders and trainers, and the "creation of an incorruptible committee to observe the behaviour of officials."
He claimed: "Four and a half months later, nothing has been done. The scandals have continued unabated, the press is going wild, horses die, fractures are increasing – and next week the winter season begins in the Middle East."
De Vos said today that Arnould had made "unsubstantiated allegations" that had brought the sport and the FEI "into disrepute," adding that claims the FEI Bureau had rejected proposals put forward by the Endurance Committee were "absolutely untrue."
He continued: "Like all FEI committee members, Mr Arnould signed a non-disclosure document and a declaration agreeing to support and actively endorse FEI policies. As an individual Pierre Arnould can speak his mind, but he cannot speak on behalf of an FEI committee without consulting its chair and his fellow members.
"This is not just a legal issue. His actions show a total lack of respect for his colleagues on the Committee, but also for other volunteers within our organisation. Mr Arnould is in clear breach of this signed agreement and his behaviour is totally unacceptable.
"In my capacity as FEI Secretary General, and in consultation with the relevant bodies within the organisation, I am currently looking into whether any further action needs to be undertaken.
"In response to Mr Arnould’s statement, I state categorically that the FEI is working to address the issues in Endurance and has been for some time."
De Vos said the creation of a strategic planning group was evidence that the FEI was addressing the problem, but Arnould, along with critics from the Belgian, Swiss and French federations, is sceptical about the composition of that group.
Its composition led to "conflict of interest" allegations last month against Princess Haya.
Lord John Stevens, the former commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, who now heads Quest, a corporate intelligence and investigation company, was this month brought in by Sheikh Mohammed to look into practices at Darley, the international breeding operation, and the Godolphin stables in Newmarket in south-east England, where horse racing trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was this year banned for eight months after admitting administering anabolic steroids to horses.
Princess Haya had earlier tasked Lord Stevens with carrying out a separate investigation following recent seizures of illegal drugs from a Dubai Royal Air Wing plane at Stansted Airport, located 40 miles north of London, and a farm the Sheikh owns near Newmarket, which is used for training endurance horses.
Arnould said: "While the FEI Endurance Committee, federations, breeders and riders have alerted the FEI board for years to these unacceptable practices, the FEI’s only response is to create a strategic group with the task of studying the evolution of endurance for the next 10 years. We need practical, impartial law enforcement measures that will cease these scandals immediately and permanently."