By Callum Murray in Lausanne
The FEI, equestrianism’s world governing body, this morning voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the tenure of its president, presently Princess Haya Al Hussein of Jordan, to cover a third four-year period, at an extraordinary general assembly held in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The vote in favour was not unexpected, given that 100 of the body's 132 national federations signed a petition at the FEI's general assembly in Montreux, Switzerland in November last year requesting the convening of an extraordinary general assembly as soon as possible for the purpose of amending the statutes in order to prolong the term of the FEI president beyond the present two-term limit.
In today’s vote, 103 national federations were in favour of the extension, with only three against.
A subsequent vote to extend the terms of office of the FEI’s ruling Bureau members to cover the same three, four-year periods was also favourable, albeit the result was closer, with 77 in favour and 27 against.
In a third vote this morning there was unanimous support for the FEI’s proposal to create an ‘Olympic Council’ “to promote and protect our sport and its values within the Olympic movement,” in the words of Princess Haya.
Princess Haya had left the room for the vote on whether to prolong the president’s term of office (which had been restricted to two four-year terms at her own instigation), and on her return after the positive vote she had to fight back tears as she thanked delegates for what she termed “the chance to do well in my life.”
She continued: “Previously I believed a term of eight years was correct. But I always tried to listen to what you say. This time, I’m listening. I remain fully committed, and very honoured for the opportunity to be available for the next term. I don’t want to go further because there is a possibility that there will be more candidates [for election to the presidency] and they should have the opportunity to come forward. But at the same time, you have my commitment to you.”
The next presidential election is scheduled to take place in Monaco in mid-December.
One of the few dissenting voices to the proposal to extend the president’s term of office was that of the Swiss national equestrian federation, whose representative, Claude Nordmann, said ahead of the vote: “This decision could be crucial for the future of equestrian sport, especially the Olympic disciplines. In the view of the Swiss equestrian federation, the image of our sport is very important.”
Nordmann listed the qualities that the FEI should display, including: “sportsmanship, clean sport, the welfare of the horse, sound governance where no conflict of interest or suspicion of it is tolerated, where there is transparency and all problems are solved quickly and before contaminating all codes and disciplines. We have to take the right decision to promote this marvellous sport. The Swiss federation will not support the proposed modification of statures.”
Nordmann’s reference to conflicts of interest was almost certainly aimed at Princess Haya’s husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, whose Godolphin stables in England have been at the centre of a long-running horse racing doping scandal.
An inquiry by the British Horseracing Authority found that 22 horses trained by Mahmood Al Zarooni at the Godolphin stables had been given illegal steroids.
A separate doping scandal has focused on the international endurance racing operations of Sheikh Mohammed, which come under the governance of the FEI. The FEI Bureau recently turned down an offer from Meydan, Sheikh Mohammed’s equestrian sports operation, to fund the work of the FEI’s Endurance Task Force, saying that “it was preferable that Meydan was not involved in this process.”
However, the overwhelming mood of this morning’s assembly was in support of Princess Haya, typified by Betty Wates of the Jamaican national equestrian federation, who said ahead of the vote: “We are beholden to the [FEI’s] solidarity programme, which has come awake in the last two terms. Now, we’re not just looking at TV to see the Olympic and Pan American and Central American Games. We’ve been given hope that we don’t have to bring people in from overseas. We’ve been given a fishing line and told to fish, and therefore we are totally in support of a third term.”
In relation to the new Olympic Council, Princess Haya named 10 IOC members and four IOC honorary members (virtually all of them influential members of royal families) who she said have strong links to equestrianism. Although she is herself an IOC member, she pointed out: “The Olympic family doesn’t always have the opportunity to offer a place [in the IOC] to the FEI for any president that stands. In future you may face a time when the FEI president is not a member of the IOC. So you should have the support of members you can rely on.
“The deeper reason for the link with them is that they gained their places because they came from our sport. Our duty is to keep them informed, so that they benefit from first knowledge of the moves we make, and the progress we’re making, and become our ambassadors in that family. The council would include members and honorary members of the IOC. You should be proud of how many there are. You would have access to all of them.”
In February it was announced that the main goal of the Olympic Council will be to “liaise on a more permanent basis between the FEI and the members of the Olympic Family with an equestrian background.”
The proposal was that the council will comprise the FEI president, all International Olympic Committee members (and honorary members) with an equestrian background, other representatives invited by the FEI president, the chairs of the FEI Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing committees, and the FEI secretary general.
The council will be chaired by the FEI president.