By Callum Murray
Equestrianism and the FEI, its world governing body, are not being “targeted” by the International Olympic Committee in its review of the process for refreshing the Olympic programme, Princess Haya Al Hussein of Jordan, the FEI president insisted today.
However, she admitted that the fact that equestrianism has three Olympic disciplines (show jumping, dressage and eventing) had “set alarm bells ringing,” given that one possibility is that disciplines of existing sports might be cut to make way for the addition of new sports to the programme.
Princess Haya was speaking at a press conference following an FEI extraordinary general assembly in Lausanne this morning at which the federation’s members unanimously backed plans to create an ‘Olympic Council’ “to promote and protect our sport and its values within the Olympic movement,” in the words of Princess Haya.
However, Princes Haya, herself an IOC member, denied that equestrianism is under any special threat, saying: “I don’t think equestrian sport or the FEI is targeted. At the IOC Session in Sochi [in February] there was an incredible amount of input for different possibilities. No one sport was targeted.”
The IOC has set up several working groups to review various aspects of the Olympic Games and of the IOC itself, under the Olympic Agenda 2020 initiative of its president Thomas Bach, and is due to take decisions about adopting possible changes at the end of this year.
Princess Haya said: “They are looking at the cost of the games for bid cities and organising committees. It’s also imperative to get young people involved, through new sports. One suggestion among many is to remove disciplines to bring in other sports, and we are a sport with three disciplines, so that set alarm bells ringing. But it’s not targeted at any sport.
“All sports are thinking about how to make themselves look better and find ways to earn their places on the Olympic programme. In December, they will decide the process, but not the sports. Once the process is in place on how sports are benchmarked against each other, we will see the results, and they will come out with a classification for 2020 [the Olympics in Tokyo].
“As a sport up against its peers, we’re looking for a process that would minimise attention on any one discipline. We want to fight to keep our three disciplines, and show the Olympic movement that we can be cost-effective.”
Princess Haya said that there were “many ways” that this could be done, including talks presently under way to find an airline sponsor to underwrite the cost of flying riders and horses to the Olympics and the possibility that the FEI could be more involved in technical preparations, such as, for example, the provision of surfaces and fences for Olympic competitions.
The creation of the FEI’s new Olympic Council, will mean, Princess Haya said, that she is no longer “the gateway to the IOC. It might be that we will have to be brave enough to talk about changing our Olympic formats, and we will rely on council members to tell us how deep we have to dig.”
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.”
Princess Haya this morning 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.
She said: “It’s important to understand what [the IOC’s] working groups are looking for. We need to watch them and be ready to accept that if there is work to be done, we will do it. The [equestrian] community has to be able to modernise if we have to, but we are all unified in protecting our existing disciplines.”
Meanwhile, Princess Haya played down a reference to “conflicts of interest” from one of the few dissenting voices from this morning’s extraordinary general assembly, that of Claude Nordmann, a representative of the Swiss equestrian federation.
The assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the tenure of the FEI president to cover a third four-year period. Princess Haya’s own second term of office is due to end later this year.
The reference 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.
Princess Haya responded: “It’s important to clearly understand what is meant by a conflict of interest. Most people in any position come from the industry they then come to lead. In many cases, conflicts are dealt with by being clearly declared. The rest of the community understands that that person is off-limits to deal with that discipline, or case, or decision. It functions very well.
“I can definitely say I have never been involved in a decision that enhanced the field of play for a member of my family. I’ve never been involved in a decision relating to endurance that would affect any competitor. I’ve always been very clear. I’m grateful for the way the federation allows me to do my job.”
= The FEI today announced a six-year sponsorship deal with corporate hospitality provider Jet Set Sports.
The federation said that, as its exclusive sponsor in the hospitality sector, “Jet Set Sports will offer first-class Olympic hospitality packages for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games to FEI stakeholders, from National Federations to athletes, horse owners and fans.”
Under the agreement, which continues until 2020, Jet Set Sports will work with the FEI to develop hospitality programmes for key FEI events.