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Sunday, November 23, 2008


If you have read any of my postings since I merrily joined the blogosphere, you know what team I’ve been cheering for in the FEI Exec versus FEI Dressage Committee duel. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), hurray! Raise the flag! All is not lost! All is not won, either – but this is like the joke about what you call a thousand lawyers lying at the bottom of the ocean. A good start.

How It – and She – Went Down

If I were more economically well disposed, I would have bought a plane ticket to Buenos Aires without a moment’s hesitation. I love Argentina and its tango-dancing, steak-gobbling denizens, not to mention all that wonderful and ridiculously inexpensive wine. I may not have got into any of the sessions at the FEI General Assembly, but I would have at least got a glimpse of some faces as they exited the various meetings: on joining equine doping to WADA, a code of ethics for horse dealers (possibly an oxymoron, but let’s give it a shot), the Dominican Republic getting kicked out of the FEI (they don’t comply with IOC requirements), and one more thing that has slipped my mind…oh yeah, the Dressage Committee.

I received daily updates from the GA in BA, courtesy of Equine Canada’s CEO Akaash Maharaj, who was enjoying the thrills of his first FEI shindig. Akaash reported to me on Wednesday that the FEI Bureau had asked the Regional groups to give the Bureau the authority to decide on the DC matter. At some point, the talk had changed from the resignation of the entire DC to just that of the Chair. Mme Withages had been singled out (which is what I kind of thought should have been done in the first place). I don’t know what the final word was from the regional group chairs, but by the time the GA started on Friday morning, Mariette had already tendered her resignation.

Knowing that the equestrian world (and not a few journalists) would be anxiously awaiting news, the FEI put up a live webcast of the GA on their site. With great anticipation, I got up at 4:30 am and sat bleary-eyed and bushy tailed in front of my glowing screen. Would there be a shouting match? Would there be blood? In the event, it was a non-event. The video streaming didn’t work too well; FEI VP Alex McLin began his opening speech with “a brief announcement on the Dressage Committee”, and I nearly gave myself an aneurism when the live feed cut out just at that moment. It cut back in a few seconds later, but McLin had already moved onto laying out the agenda for the rest of the day – most of which was about such edge-of-your-seat stuff like how much money the FEI made by changing banks, and how they were working to make HQ greener.

My frustration at missing the announcement was thankfully short-lived. A press release arrived a few minutes later. Mariette Withages, Dominatrix of Dressage for the past seven years, had surrendered, thus ending the battle royal before it began. The rest of the committee swiftly followed: judges Mafioso Enzo (whom I watched with disbelief at the CDI in Blainville 2002 – he would observe the first part of a movement, such as an extended trot, tell the scribe a mark, and then crane his head like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and miss the rest of the movement, returning his reluctant gaze to the ring only when the horse had moved onto the next exercise), Dinosaur Dieter (embracing change is SO not this man’s modus operandi), the Japanese one; Spanish chef d’equipe and Mariette’s great friend Bobby (hell no, we won’t go) Bobadilla, and Monica Teodorescu, the athlete rep. I think there is a thinly veiled implication in Monica’s comment that she will return to the fold of the IDRC, which was 100% behind HRH from the get-go.

Just Ad Hoc

For the next year, Richard Davison, Robert Dover, Alain Francqueville and Frank Kemperman will face the gargantuan and potentially onerous task of putting the train back on the tracks. Among the many items to go under review is the vastly unpopular three-per-team Olympic format (see, I told you it sucked), and the “fitness for purpose of the method of judging for dressage.” Let me guess: they won’t be consulting too much with ol’ Dieter on that one. I think the sun could rise very brightly again if this group stays on task; asks lots of opinions of lots of people who know, care and depend on the future of dressage; and if the members leave as much of their egos at the door as it is possible to expect of strong, intelligent minds. The sport is full of cool and super-talented people: riders, trainers, chefs, show organizers, and yes, some whiz-bang judges. I can be skeptical, and even cynical. But right now I feel a thrill of optimism. To cheesily quote Obama: “Yes, we can.” One interesting note: the working group is entirely male….

The Dope on Doping

The German federation has appealed to the Court of Abritration for Sport (CAS) to double Christian Ahlmann’s penalties for the capsaicin bust at the Olympics, and is also reportedly ordering the rider to pay back the travel costs for the trip to Hong Kong. Well, they can’t be accused of behaving nationalistically in this case, that’s for sure. Capsaicin will from now on be treated as a doping substance, and not a banned medication, which was the reason the FEI Tribunal’s sanctions were so mild. But don’t worry, the jumpers are sure to find something else to make their horses keep jumping extra high. Cha-ching!

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