The surprise decision by Princess Haya to step down from the FEI presidency in December is sure to create a fascinating race to replace her. Neil Clarkson shops around for potential candidates.
The skills needed to be president of the FEI look pretty formidable, when you look over the advertisement I quickly cobbled together.
The deadline is only a few days away, so I figure the FEI needs all the help it can get.
In fact, I took most of the wording from a job vacancy ad for a shop assistant.
It must come as a great relief to those who have held the role – Princess Haya, Prince Philip, Princess Anne, and the Spanish Infanta Doña Pilar de Borbòn – that their years spent in the presidency have sharply honed their skills to make them ideally suited for a career in retail.
The only difference, of course, is that retail work pays a whole lot better.
Now, before you head down the road and encourage a Walmart checkout operator with a couple of horses to apply, I should point out another couple of interesting quirks.
For the last 60 years, the role has been held by a member of a royal family. That would seem, at first glance, to knock out a few billion potential candidates.
However, it is entirely possible the time is upon us where the next president of the FEI, who will be elected at the FEI General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan, in December, will not be a blue-blood.
So, who is in the frame?
Let’s consider a few names. The problem with speculating, of course, is that we have no idea whether these individuals harbour any desires to hold the role. For a start, it is a four-year commitment and is an unpaid role. It will be demanding on time and, it has to be said, the world of global equestrian politics is not without its stresses.
We certainly don’t need a surveillance satellite or a phone tap on FEI headquarters to come up with some of the potential contenders. A perusal of the list of FEI Bureau members offers several possible candidates.
First, let’s consider the two vice-presidents, John McEwen, of Britain, and Pablo Tomas Mayorga, of Argentina.
The profile of McEwen, a veterinarian who chairs the FEI Veterinary Committee, has grown considerably this year. He took on responsibility for endurance in June, which has unquestionably been the biggest hot potato in orbit around Planet FEI.
He had an advisory role with the endurance task force and has, on many levels, come into his own this year. His diplomacy is well known.
Some might consider having a vet in the presidential role to be entirely appropriate, given the prominence of welfare issues in the last two years.
Mayorga, who is an affable fellow by all accounts, would undoubtedly have wide support in Latin and Central America, but he has perhaps not been prominent enough on the difficult issues to be a serious contender.
The Middle East, I suspect, will struggle to get traction behind any candidate, given the endurance troubles that have unfolded in Group VII.
The region’s obvious candidate is Sheikh Khalid Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, of Bahrain. Sheikh Khalid is an international endurance judge and has chaired Group VII since 2006. Given the current climate, it would seem a step too far, in my view.
The only North American contender with the potential to get any serious traction would be the charismatic John Madden, who chairs the FEI Jumping Committee. Madden is a horse trainer and trader who has risen to the highest ranks within the FEI. His statesman-like qualities are well known and he has driven some major changes in the FEI’s largest discipline. He is said to be well liked and he commands a great deal of respect for his work, especially in Europe.
However, the most obvious candidate within the FEI Bureau is, in my view, Hanfried Haring, of Germany, who is chairman of Europe’s Group II. He is also president of the powerful European Equestrian Federation.
Haring is said to be friendly and approachable. He is well respected by his European colleagues. Should he want the role, it is not too big a step to imagine a core of European federations backing him.
Outside the bureau, another obvious mainland European prospect would be Ulf Helgstrand, who is head of the Danish Equestrian Federation and also vice-president of the European Equestrian Federation. Helgstrand is said to be a charismatic individual and is not afraid to state his mind on the issues.
Across the English Channel, it is possible the chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation, Andrew Finding, may pursue the role.
Finding, a born diplomat considered to be ambitious, seems to be very much in favour within the FEI hierarchy.
He chaired the Endurance Strategy Planning Group, which spearheaded the reform process in that sport, and did a very good job of negotiating through what amounted to a sporting minefield.
However, one has to wonder how nations would view a national federation employee making the transition to the presidency. It would certainly break new ground.
Of course, we already have the Swiss nominee Pierre Genecand, who was the first to declare a formal interest in this year’s presidential race. Genecand is a businessman and entrepreneur who splits his time between Switzerland and Argentina, where he breeds horses.
Genecand deserves marks for tenacity in standing in the presidential race when it was widely assumed Princess Haya would seek a third term. Most would have rated his chances of success against the princess as slim, but he clearly believes he can bring much to the table. With the surprise decision of the princess to stand down, the entire game has changed and it is hard to gauge how Genecand now fits in the wider European mix.
And herein lies the problem for Europe.
Europe will be desperately keen to win the presidency. The region is, after all, the powerhouse of equestrian sport, and it has shown considerable moral leadership on welfare issues in the last 18 months.
I believe the next president of the FEI will come from Europe, but there are two critical hurdles the continent must clear to achieve that.
First, it must show some unity behind one candidate. If Europe cannot unite behind one candidate, then it cannot credibly reach out to the other FEI regions and expect them to do the same.
I have no doubt that the Europeans recognise this, and much work will be going on in the background to find the right candidate before the September 1 deadline. This won’t be easy, of course. There will be national and personal agendas in play, and many compromises will undoubtedly be required.
Should Europe succeed in uniting behind one nominee, they must satisfy the rest of the world that they have a vision for global horse sport that will continue to help smaller nations improve standards and develop their equestrian interests.
At the end of the day, European federations comprise 43 of the FEI’s 130 member states, so they will need wider support.
What are national federations likely to consider when selecting the next president?
The ideal president of the FEI will command some kind of presence on the world stage. He or she will be a person of influence capable of commanding respect from the grass roots of the sport right up to the halls of the International Olympic Committee headquarters.
That is essentially why members of royal families have occupied the role for six decades. So, is it possible Princess Anne, who was president for eight years until 1994, could be asked? Anything is possible but, to me, Princess Anne seems far too comfortable in her own skin these days to contemplate committing to the role.
The only other possibility is a statesmanlike figure in the equestrian world – a former rider with a great back-story – much like Princess Anne and Princess Haya.
The FEI has been modernised and, under Secretary General Ingmar de Vos, perhaps does not need a hands-on president so much. Has the time has come for a figurehead president?
It would seem that my hastily assembled job vacancy advertisement might have left out a few pertinent job requirements. Being well connected would be a distinct advantage – and a Midas touch with sponsors would be a major plus.
Don’t let any of that put you off sending in your CV. The only thing is, you’ll need the formal backing of your national federation.