McLain Ward Waits on FEI to Release Drug Test Findings on Sapphire Following World Cup Ouster
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
A finding by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Tribunal in the case against the American mare, Sapphire, ridden by McLain Ward to the lead in the World Cup before being disqualified on grounds that triggered international outrage exactly four weeks ago, appears to have been concluded but not released.
The FEI indicated more than a week ago that the findings that would include the result of testing for drugs in the 15-year-old double Olympic team gold medal Belgian Warmblood mare would be released a week ago, McLain Ward told dressage-news. com. When that did not occur, the FEI pushed the release to early this week but again delayed, supposedly because of holidays in Europe.
“We are getting a little bit upset at the delays,” McLain said in a telephone conversation. McLain and Sapphire were in La Baule, France, competing in the first of the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cup series in which the U.S. placed second of the 10 teams.
The case cast a cloud over the World Cup Final in Geneva and more widespread over the administration of FEI veterinary and control procedures. The FEI called them “protocols” that could not be challenged at the time of the incident.
McLain of Brewster, New York, and Sapphire finished second in the first of three rounds of the World Cup Final, a situation similar to their 2009 campaign when they finished second behind Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum of Germany.
However, 15 minutes into the second round, FEI veterinarians scanned Sapphire’s legs. The veterinarians said they detected hypersensation in one leg, but determined that the pair could jump the course. They did so and again placed second.
As the previous round’s leader incurred penalties, McLain and Sapphire went to the top of the leaderboard with just one round to go and presenting an opportunity for the first American title at the World Cup of jumping since 1987.
After the class was over, the FEI veterinarians conducted a second thermo-imaging scan and announced that Sapphire displayed “an abnormal level of hypersensitivity” and was disqualified.
So stunned was McLain, U.S. team veterinarian Dr. Timothy Ober, Chef d’Equipe George Morris and the U.S. Equestrian Federation, that they insisted the FEI draw blood to be tested for drugs. The FEI at first did not do so, and the U.S. drew blood as backup before the FEI performed their own blood sampling 30 hours after the disqualification. The American samples were frozen pending the FEI findings.
The shock waves were felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Two days after the disqualification, The New York Times, which rarely reports on show jumping, published an extensive article including the disclosure by an FEI official that the tests on Sapphire were conducted “on the basis of confidential information received.” The FEI would not disclose the source of the information.
The delays by the FEI in releasing the tribunal finding may be an effort by the international governing body to “buy time,” McLain said Friday.
“All of the science is on our side and everyone, including those who are not our biggest supporters, admit it,” he said.
The findings of the FEI Tribunal will determine whether an appeal will be filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “we hope this leads to steps being taken to prevent this happening to someone else, so that it will not be acceptable for these kinds of judgments to be made without consequences.”
He praised the USEF for its strong support, including assigning its own legal team to the case, and said it could lead to a new level of cooperation with riders