International Dressage, Jumper, Eventing Riders Join in Supporting Call by FEI Chief Haya for Rational Doping Policy
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
The top international dressage, jumping and eventing riders’ groups joined Thursday in supporting International Equestrian Federation President Princess Haya bint al Hussein who declared her faith in the integrity of suspended German dressage rider Isabell Werth.
The rare joint declaration by top international riders in the three Olympic disciplines was issued after Haya, who represented her native Jordan at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, declared in several media interviews during a visit to the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany: “I don’t believe that Isabell Werth is a cheater. Obviously, she was badly misadvised by her veterinarian.
“She had everything to lose, but nothing to win. She never would have thrown away her entire career for something like that.”
Haya’s comments were interpreted throughout the show horse world as an admission that enforcement of ironclad rules without distinguishing between legitimate medical treatment and doping to enhance performance has led to a crisis in the sport.
Werth was suspended after her small tour horse, Whisper, was found to have trace elements of a drug that contains a banned ingredient while competing at Wiesbaden, Germany at the end of May. Werth, a five-time Olympic gold medalist who has not previously been convicted of any doping charge, admitted that Whisper had been treated for “shivers” and that her vet, Dr. Hans Stihl, had advised the horse would be free of the drug in about six days. Werth waited 16 days before competing the horse, but a drug test found a tiny amount of the banned substance still in the horse’s system.
The positive test came nine months after the Beijing Olympics in which German jumper team member Christian Ahlmann was found to have used a banned substance, capsaicin, as were riders from four other nations. All were suspended by a FEI Tribunal for 90 days.
But the German national equestrian federation (FN) successfully appealed against the decision and imposed a suspension of 180 days, triggering controversy and turmoil within the horse show world.
The case of Isabell Werth has drawn even sharper divisions–the German FN insisting on tough penalties no matter the circumstances while many top riders and treating veterinarians are calling for more rational implementation of doping policies.
At the heart of the issue is whether horses can be treated and maintained in the same way as human athletes–openly dealing with medical issues without using performance-enhancing drugs, on one side, or an ironclad zero tolerance policy using testing equipment that can detect miniscule trace amounts of any kind of drug which can be transferred by placing a hand on a horse.
The joint letter issued Thursday was from the President of the International Jumping Riders Club, Rodrigo Pessoa, and IJRC committee members Ludger Beerbaum, Francois Mathy, Eleonora Ottaviani, Cayetano Martinez de Irujo, Peter Wylde, Steve Guerdat, Michel Robert, and Roberto Cristofoletti; Eventing riders Bettina and Andrew Hoy; the President of the International Dressage Riders Club, Margit Otto-Crépin; IDRC board member and Clean Sport Commission member, Wayne Channon and the Chairman of the FEI Athlete’s Commission Chairman, Lee Pearson.
“With the wholehearted support of the athletes we represent, we wish to make a declaration following the statement by the President of the FEI on the case of 5-time Olympic Gold Medallist from Dressage, Isabel Werth.” the letter said.
“On Sunday (5 July 2009), the FEI President stated to various members of the media at Aachen CHIO that, in her opinion, the FEI as the governing body of horse sports should accept responsibility for the crisis that we now face as a family on the issue of doping in our sport. Whilst the independent FEI Tribunal will in all likelihood be giving high punishments for doping cases, she believes that athletes like Isabel Werth did not mean to cheat or enhance their performance but rather were victims of a system that is unclear.
“We are heartened by her faith in us and we wish to state that we join her with our voices and our support in the fight against doping. The President of the FEI and all the athletes in our three Olympic sports have a clear vision of the future.
“The FEI established the Ljungqvist Clean Sport Commission and the Stevens Commission to investigate the extent of doping in our sport. As riders, we are represented in the Ljungqvist Clean Sport Commission and we are part of the effort to find a solution. We need clarity on exactly what the definitions of doping and medication are in our sport. We agree that being part of these discussions will bring us to this point of clarity and, after the necessary consultation period with us, we will accept punishments for any infringements in doping cases in our sport completely in line with the WADA code, for both horses and riders. (WADA is the World Anti Doping Agency created by the International Olympic Committee a decade ago to deal with doping in sport).
“We have long felt that we have been unable to communicate with the FEI and that our international governing body had little or no understanding of what happened in our sports in their delivery on the ground. Failure to understand our requests for clarifications on doping and medication lists has been a longstanding concern to us and had this area been addressed earlier, and more thoroughly, then we feel that we would have never reached this point of crisis.
“However, we support the work of the FEI President, and we believe in the Ljungqvist Clean Sport Commission as a vehicle to create a unified and lasting solution because we strongly believe that we would dishonour our countries, our sport, our horses and ourselves by cheating.”
In a separate move, U.S. Jumping Team Veterinarian Timothy R. Ober and German Jumping Team Vet Jan-Hein Swagemakers are spearheading a drive by treating vets to pursue collaborative efforts with the FEI for proper and ethical medical treatment of horses.
About 20 veterinarian from national teams–central to the treatment and maintenance of high performance horses–met at Aachen during the World Equestrian Festival to draft a proposal to submit to the FEI.