FEI Tribunal Agrees to Hear Dominican Republic Protest Over Olympic Qualifiers

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Luiza Almeida on Samba at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The FEI Tribunal has agreed to hear a protest by the Dominican Republic of the International Equestrian Federations’s approval of Brazil using three judges in Olympic qualifying competitions over the past year.

The Tribunal announced Tuesday that it will hold a hearing in New York City next Wednesday, April 4, on the merits of the protest against the results of competitions in Brazil Feb. 10-12 and Feb. 24-26. Protests against other events in 2011 and 2012 were not admitted as the 14-day period for filing a protest had passed.

If the tribunal upholds the Dominican Republic protest, the two results for Brazil’s Luíza Tavares de Almeida who finished at the top of the individual rankings for the Central and South American region coud be thrown out.

The Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Loses de Muñiz and Liebling II would move up to the top of the rankings from second place. She could become the first equestrian from the Dominican Republic to compete in an Olympics.

The Tribunal was made up of Jens Adolphsen of Germany, chairman, and members Armand Leone of the United States and Vladan Jetvic of Serbia. The panel last week conferred by telephone with the FEI and the two national federations in considering whether to accept the protest.

The issue centers around Brazil receiving “exceptions” from the FEI in approving three judges on ground juries from the same nation in the year of Olympic qualifying around the world.

According to a review by dressage-news.com of official competition records Brazil received 10 of the 14 “exceptions the FEI granted for Olympic qualifiers.

Other nations to receive an exception were Australia and Canada each for one event and New Zealand for two events.

Official FEI records list about 138 events CDI3* or above, plus the World Cup Final and the European Championships, in which nations could seek to qualify individual horse and rider combinations for the London Games by having their top eight scores count from competitions in the qualifying period from Mar. 1, 2011, to Mar. 1, 2012.

There were 49 qualifying shows outside Europe–in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. There were no qualifiers elsewhere in Central or South America.

Luíza Tavares de Almeida and Samba finished at the top of the individual rankings for the Central and South America and the Yvonne Loses de Muñiz and Liebling II placed second.

Luíza, Brazil’s top rider, rode in all 13 qualifying competitions in Brazil, in 11 of them with Samba, the gray Lusitano she competed as a teenager at the 2008 Olympics.

Ten of the 13 Brazilian competitions used the same three Brazilian judges–Sabine Angela Windisch Bilton, Claudia Moreira de Mesquita and Salim Nigri, according to the dressage-news.com search, with two foreign judges completing the five-member ground jury.

The Brazilian federation has not been faulted for the use of three judges. Brazil named the judges and their nationalities on the application to the FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Brazil, which will host the 2016 summer Olympics, including equestrian events, made a concerted effort to qualify an individual by staging the 13 competitions, second outside of Europe only to the 20 Olympic qualifiers organized in the United States in the same period.

The FEI approved the makeup of the ground juries to include the three Brazilian judges, as the FEI said it did for organziers who applied for competitions outside Europe.

The Dominican Republic rider competed on three different horses at 11 shows in the United States. No competitions had more than two American judges.

The Dominican Republic national federation first complained to the FEI on Jan. 26, 2012, that three competitions scheduled for Brazil in February each with ground juries made up of three Brazilian judges and two foreigners was in violation of Olympic qualifying rules, according to documents disclosed by sources.

The rules for qualifying an individual state that scores to count for rankings must be attained: “At all CDI 3/4/5*, CDIO and CDI-W events, judged by five judges of whom at least three are foreign, the results may count (GP, GP Special, GP Freestyle).”

The rules also contain a “fairness” provision, that: “The FEI Dressage Committee has the right to accept reasonable exceptions to these rules, in the interest of the riders and the sport in general. The FEI Dressage Committee may decide not to include the scores obtained at an event in the rankings, should the event not have been organized in accordance with the general principle of fairness. The Executive Board should confirm the decision of the Dressage Committee.”

Brazil was given a one-year exception from similar rules to qualify for the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010.

The documents show the Dominican Republic also noted that one of the Brazilian judges was his federation’s director of dressage and had been chef d’equipe of Brazil’s dressage team at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October. That also appeared a violation of FEI rules.

In the documents reviewed by dressage-news.com, the FEI responded that it was allowing competitions outside Europe to not be bound by the rule limiting ground juries to two judges from the same nation where the event was held because of the financial cost of importing judges.

No supporting documentation that this decision was made by the FEI Dressage Committee or the FEI Executive Board was found in the papers viewed by dressage-news.com.

The FEI also stated it was unaware of one judge holding official positions with the Brazilian federation but had asked urgently for clarification.

It was not known whether the FEI received clarification from the Brazilian federation and, if so, whether any explanation was provided to the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic, according to the documents, on Feb. 24 sent a second complaint to the FEI, at the start of the last Brazilian Olympic qualifying competition, again complaining about the composition of the ground jury.

No response from the FEI was found.

Two days after the February complaint, the Dominican Republic filed a formal protest over the FEI’s approval of judging panels in the Olympic qualifying competitions.

At the FEI Tribunal telephone conference call last week to consider whether the hear the protest, the FEI argued it should be procedurally barred because “the nature of the claim they filed had to first be decided by the Ground Jury.”

The case clearly will not be concluded by Saturday, Mar. 31, the deadline for confirmation of individual allocated places for the London Games.

Whatever the decision of the FEI Tribunal, an appeal can be filed with the independent Court of Arbitration for Sport, also based in Lausanne.

(This version lists 14 events that were approved for three judges of the same nationality as where the show was staged and adding competitions in Australia, Canada and a second event in New Zealand, correcting an earlier version that stated there were 11 such events and listed a single one in New Zealand in addition to 10 in Brazil.)