Olympic Qualifying Show Organizer Defends Actions, Calls For Overhaul of Judge Selection Procedures

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At the center of the controversy, Ukraine's Inna Logutenkova on Don Gregorius. Fle photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
At the center of the controversy, Ukraine’s Inna Logutenkova on Don Gregorius. Fle photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Mar. 14, 2016

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Olympic dressage qualifying events that drew fire for unexpectedly high scores were the result of what the president of shows in Lier, Belgium labeled an “imperfect” system of selecting judges that should be overhauled.

The FEI, the International Equestrian Federation, “has to form multinational judging panels… independent from organizing committees and national federations,” said Mykhaylo Parkhomchuk, president of the events in Lier and in several other nations as well as sponsor of the World Dressage Masters.

“The improvements that are essential are for all to see. We need only to pluck up the courage to change the system.”

Mykhaylo’s views have support among competitors, trainers and owners. Some see the current system of judges being paid about €125 (US$140) per day–more in the United States–and selected by organizers as not much beyond the days of volunteer judges. To afford to be judges, many provide training sessions and are involved in horse sales that create the perception of conflicts.

To compensate judges for their experience, knowledge and ranking would also make them accountable in a sport of professionals in which millions of dollars/euros are invested in horses and many thousands more in maintaining premier athletes for Olympic and championship levels.

The Olympic qualification system for the summer Games in Rio de Janeiro required only four scores instead of eight for the 2012 Olympics. A result of the small number of qualifying scores meant that prospects could select shows in the last few weeks rather than display consistency over the one-year qualifying period.

A Moscow CDI3* event was one of 12 Olympic qualifying events in the two weeks before the deadline. Three other events were in Lier.

At Moscow, the panel of five judges including two Russians and a Dutch judge who had provided training for some of the competitors awarded a Grand Prix score of 82.240 per cent for Inessa Merkulova and Mister X that put the duo among the elite dozen in the history of the sport to break 80 per cent. Their previous best was 76.460 per cent. The pair was already assured of an individual Olympic start. In the same competition, fellow Russian Marina Aframeeva on Vosk, also owned by Inessa, was given a Grand Prix score of 76.780 per cent and 78.425 per cent in the Freestyle–previous bests were 71.900 at Grand Prix and 75.630 in the Freestyle.

The scores were enough to give Russia a second individual spot.

Russia's Marina Aframeeva and Vosk. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Russia’s Marina Aframeeva and Vosk. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

At the Lier qualifying events at which there were two Ukrainian judges, Inna and Don Gregorius were given personal best scores of 73.980 per cent at Grand Prix and 77.850 per cent in the Freestyle. It appeared the pair had earned an Olympic individual place.

Before the successful qualifiers were announced, though, the Poland Equestrian Federation raised an issue about the Lier shows and the FEI decided to look into it. All but one place was announced, the last remaining spot “TBC”–to be confirmed.

“Any decision that the FEI might take to discount the result of the Lier event would be based on the FEI’s subsequent investigation, relying on the Fairness Principle/Article 112.3 of the GRs (right to remove a competition or event from the calendar), rather than the decision being based on the Polish National Federation complaint,” an FEI spokesperson told dressage-news.com.

A decision may be made this week

Mykhaylo Parkhomchuk, in addition to being president of the Lier events is also director of the Vian Group that sponsors the World Dressage Masters and organizes several dressage competitions in other nations in addition to Belgium where they are based.

Their first test event in Belgium was in the fall of 2015 that was considered a success with almost 180 horses participating.

“All the participants were satisfied and happy,” he said. “They asked us to continue holding competitions in Belgium. We came up with the idea of holding two events in the last week of Olympic qualifying.”

Twelve judges were invited including two FEI 5* judges and cooperated with the FEI in supporting the presence of David Hunt of Great Britain, a member of the Judges Supervisory Panel that oversees ground juries at Olympics and major championships, to monitor the event.

Beata Stremler and Rubicon D. © File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Beata Stremler and Rubicon D. © File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Poland’s Beata Stremler and Rubicon D and Russia’s Marina Aframeeva on Vosk were invited, he said. Judges from Poland and Russia were also invited with the aim, he said, to provide a level playing field.

“At the meeting of judges that was held by David Hunt at the end of the competion, there were no complaints or remarks regarding the judges’ work,” he said.

Marina Aframeeva and Vosk started at home in Moscow where she was judged by two Russians. Inna performed in Belgium where she lives and was judged by two Ukrainians.

Beata competed at Dortmund in Germany where she is based and her rides were judged by two Germans. She received personal best scores in the Grand Prix of 72.760 per cent and 76.400 per cent in the Freestyle.

“Therefore all three athletes were in the same, equal condition,” he said.

“I deeply respect all three athletes, they made a huge effort and deserve to participate in the main event this year, the Rio Olympic Games. But this is sport. One has more luck and one less. The scariest thing is that the future of a place in Rio is decided not at the sports arena but in an office.”

He said: “It is necessary to take away the organizing committees’ rights to invite the judges. The FEI has to choose the judges according to a transparent draw.

“There have to be more qualifying events eight instead of four, where the athletes can seek a place at the Olympics. They have to be open for every athlete that is a potential participant.

“Dressage is an amazing sport and it depends on every one of us to decide where it goes in the future.”