The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is backing the formation of a task force to look at practical solutions to the problems within endurance.
The task force, and its backing by the sheikh, is a sign that positive changes may be coming in Middle Eastern endurance, which has been at the centre of a storm over drug infractions, high fracture rates, and an apparent cavalier approach by some to the rules.
The FEI has been working through an extensive process of reform, but the last major round of consultation in Lausanne early in February failed to draw representatives from the FEI’s Group VII, which comprises Middle Eastern nations.
Some FEI nations saw it as a sign that the region was not interested in change, and there has been talk of breakaway endurance groups on both sides of the Atlantic.
The latest task force is the culmination of a March 30 meeting attended by Sheikh Mohammed, FEI vice-presidents John McEwen and Pablo Mayorga, and FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos.
The meeting was reportedly sparked by the FEI Executive Board’s desire to explore other possible initiatives to ensure proposed changes offered a workable solution for all terrains and all climatic conditions.
The FEI said in a statement that Sheikh Mohammed, the current world endurance champion, expressed his appreciation of the work done by the Endurance Strategy Planning Group, which has been leading the reform process, and offered his full support for all further initiatives that would guarantee a level playing field for the sport.
The FEI said it was agreed during the meeting that the use of modern technology and an overhaul of operations at endurance events were key elements in solving the issues that have affected the sport.
It said the new task force would begin work almost immediately, focusing on developing practical solutions to ensure fair competition globally.
The task force will comprise representatives from the FEI Endurance Committee, the FEI Executive Board and from FEI headquarters, as well as external experts as needed.
Its remit will include examining the use of modern technology and enhancing operational solutions.
The FEI Bureau was taking the conclusions and recommendations of the ESPG extremely seriously and had assumed full responsibility for delivering clear measures to bring about a long-term solution, the statement said.
FEI President Princess Haya expressed her thanks to the ESPG members, and particularly the group’s chairman Andrew Finding, for his work and leadership.
The work to date showed not only the need for some rule changes, but that enforcement of the rules at events was critical, the FEI said.
“Officials play a crucial role in rules enforcement and the FEI is aware of the need to support officials in fulfilling their duties but also to guarantee their integrity to ensure a level playing field,” the statement said.
The Endurance Committee is currently working on the rules revision that will be presented at the FEI Sports Forum at the end of this month.