Protest Filed With FEI Over Central & South American Dressage Olympic Selection

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Competing at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011 in Brazilian Army uniform of a sergeant, Luiza Almeida Novaes Tavares. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The Dominican Rublic has filed an “official protest” with the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) over its approval of  CDI3* events in Brazil with a predominantly national panel of judges that last weekend awarded the top Brazilian rider personal best scores to make her the sole individual competitor from central and South America at the London Olympics.

Luíza Tavares de Almeida and Samba, the 13-year-old Lusitano stallion on which she competed at the Beijing Games in 2008, were awarded personal best scores of 68.021 per cent in the Grand Prix and 71.325 per cent in the Freestyle that were enough to give her an edge over Yvonne Losos de Muñiz and Liebling II from the Dominican Republic ahead of the Mar. 1 deadline for individuals to qualify for Olympics.

The FEI confirmed to dressage-news.com on Monday that an official protest was received from the Dominican Republic National Federation. The FEI “are taking it very seriously and the process is being reviewed,” the FEI spokesperson said.

Details of the protest were not released by the FEI, but are reported to seek a review of the entire qualifying period from Mar. 1, 2011 to Mar. 1 this year for compliance with the rules.

Approval of the events–Brazilian nationals made up three of the five judges in as many as five shows–threatens to spark a controversy involving equestrian sports at the Olympics for the second straight time. The 2008 Beijing Games were marked by issues of judging that led to a complete overhaul of the governance of international dressage, as well as the disquaification of six jumper riders for illegal use of drugs in their horses.

The three Brazilian judges on the ground jury in São Paulo were Sabine Bilton, Salim Nigri and Claudia Moreira de Mesquita. The other two judges were Marietta Almasy of France, who was previously married to a Brazilian and lived in the South American nation, and Cesar Lopardo Grana of Argentina. The same three Brazilian judges were on two other judging panels at CDIs in Brazil in which Luíza and Samba competed for Olympic qualifying scores.

The previous CDIs using Brazilian national judges went unchallenged.

There was confusion initially on whether Yvonne could have claimed the top spot for the Dominican Republic after she and her horse, Liebling II, flew across the United States to compete at the Mid-Winter Dressage World Cup event in Burbank, California, to gain enough points.

After scores of 63.447 per cent in the Grand Prix Friday and 70.500 per cent in the Freestyle Saturday, Yvonne believed she was out of the contest.

However, those scores may have placed her atop the standings for Central and South America–until the results from Brazil.

Yvonne Losos de Muñiz and Liebling II at the Mid-Winter Dressage World Cup event in California. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

If the FEI rejects any move to disallow the Brazil events, an appeal could be made to the FEI Tribunal and then court of last resort, the Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the FEI and the International Olympic Committee also have their headquarters.

Actions by the ground jury in dressage at the 2008 Games led to dismissal of the entire FEI Dressage Committee that was dominated by judges and its replacement by a body of six members representing various stakeholder groups such as organizers, riders, trainers, chefs d’equipe and judges.

The rules for approving a CDI3*, officials report, do not allow the use of three national judges unless granted an exception by both the Dressage Committee and the Executive Board of the FEI.

At this time, it is not known if this is the only procedure for approval or whether this process was followed, but the FEI has been asked by dressage-news.com for clarification.

Officials from other nations who requested anonymity have weighed in with criticism of the process.

None of the officials criticized the Brazilian federation or competition organizers. The draft prize list submitted to the FEI for the CDI3*s met the requirements of the FEI by listing the individual judges by name and nationality. The FEI approved the events.

Luíza is popular in Brazil, which will host the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

As a teenager on the gray stallion, Samba, at the equestrian competition at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong, she won the hearts of spectators. She also competed Samba at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010.

As the host for the Olympics following this summer’s London Games and Brazil’s failure to win a team slot at last year’s Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, the country has pulled out all the stops to support efforts to qualify for the individual place.

A news release on this weekend’s competition, said: “Since Brazilian dressage lost the fight for the right to send a team to London for not having won medals at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, the only individual place for Latin America became the target of the equestrian competitors and officials. Athletes able to run for the position stepped up training and participation in clinics with international icons.

“Together, the Brazilian Equestrian Confederation (CBH), Federation of Equestrian (FTM) and a group of breeders of Lusitanos rallied to complete the agenda of the six qualifiers within the deadline set by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). Three were between November and December 2011, three more this month of February.”

This was Yvonne’s third attempt to compete at an Olympics for the Dominican Republic. She won individual bronze medals at the 2003 Pan American Games in her homeland and the 2007 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

She said she will consider seeking to qualify for the next World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, in 2014 on Liebling.