The FEI has suspended the UAE national federation ©FEI

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has announced the suspension of the United Arab Emirates over the alleged reclassification of events to avoid applying the governing body’s endurance rules.

The FEI said the case centred on the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and The President's Cup events, which were held in January and February respectively, and it is set to last until the end of the year.

Both events were held as national endurance events, but the FEI determined they should have been held as international endurance events due to the number of foreign athletes far exceeded the quota permitted national competitions.

The FEI said that "under Article 101 of the FEI General Regulations, national events must be limited to no more than four National Federations and/or more than 15 foreign Athletes aside from 'Athletes living outside their country of nationality'."

The investigation, led by law firm Bird & Bird LLP, found that a total of 93 foreign athletes from 24 different national federations participated in the Sheikh Mohammed Cup.

A total of 88 foreign athletes from 21 different national federations were found to have participated in the President's Cup.

The FEI Board met via videoconference on September 16 to hear presentations from Bird & Bird and the UAE national body's legal representatives, with both parties responding to questions.

The FEI Board concluded the UAE had violated FEI Rules.

This included the regulation that "international competitions may never be held under national rules", as well as ensuring "that all clubs and societies affiliated to national federations and all organising committees abide by the general regulations and sport rules when organising International Events or Competitions".

Violations regarding the Sheikh Mohammed Cup were deemed intentional, while the President’s Cup offences were considered "at the very least negligent".

The FEI Board deemed the reason for the reclassification of the competitions as national events was to avoid the application of the new FEI Endurance Rules, which were scheduled to take effect on January 1.

FEI President Ingmar De Vos said it was disheartening to suspend the UAE national federation again, with the body having previously been sanctioned in 2015 over issues relating to horse welfare.

FEI President Ingmar De Vos said there was
FEI President Ingmar De Vos said there was "clear intent" to avoid applying the rules ©Getty Images

"The decision to suspend the UAE National Federation was not taken lightly, but it reflects our commitment to good governance, integrity and horse welfare," De Vos said.

"Regrettably we were forced to suspend the UAE Federation in 2015 following an investigation into endurance horse welfare issues and non-compliance with FEI Rules and Regulations.

"It is extremely disheartening that we are tackling similar issues in 2020 and that we have had to revert to the suspension of the national federation.

"However, the UAE national federation’s clear intent to avoid the application of the new rules at the biggest events in their calendar was reflected in their actions around these two events and, as a community, we cannot allow individual national federations to apply the rules only as and when it suits them.

"It is my sincere hope that this suspension will drive change within the Federation and give rise to a new era for Endurance in the UAE equestrian community."

A full suspension of the UAE national federation will be in place until December 31, with its activities in the endurance discipline suspended until March 31 in 2021.

The FEI said the suspension affects any events in the UAE, which become "Unsanctioned Events" during the suspension period.

Any athlete, horse or official participating at an unsanctioned event faces the prospect of a ban of up to six months under FEI rules.

The governing body has imposed a financial sanction on the organisers, requiring them to pay a percentage of the prize money and organising fees that would have been payable to the FEI had the events been held as international competitions.

The prize money percentage for the Sheikh Mohammed Cup will be 50 per cent, while for the President’s Cup it will be 10 per cent.

The FEI Board decided that the UAE national federation must pay the governing body’s legal fees.

Suspensions imposed on the Emirati body will remain in place until all financial sanctions have been paid in full.

It has 21 days to appeal the decision to the FEI Tribunal, starting from notification of the sanction yesterday.