Dominican Republic Loses Protest Against Brazil Olympic Qualifying, May Appeal to CAS

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Yvonne Losos de Muniz and Liebling II. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The Dominican Republic has lost its protest against the staging of Olympic qualfying competitions in Brazil that led to Brazil’s Luíza Tavares de Almeida becoming the top ranked individual in Latin America to compete at the Olympic Games in London in three months.

The FEI, the International Equestrian Federation, notified the Dominican Republic and Brazil national federations of the decision of the FEI Tribunal that heard the case and made its ruling in a 12-page document.

The Dominican Republic federation filed the protest after Yvonne Loses de Muñiz and Liebling II placed second in the rankings. The protest challenged the makeup of the ground juries–with three Brazilian judges on the five-member panels–and other elements of the competitions staged in Brazil.

Luíza Tavares de Almeida competed in 13 qualifying competitions, 11 on Samba, the gray Lusitano she competed as a teenager at the 2008 Olympics. The classes in the disputed events were made up solely of Brazilian combinations. Ten of the 13 competitions used the same three Brazilian judges–Sabine Angela Windisch Bilton, Claudia Moreira de Mesquita and Salim Nigri, with two foreign judges completing the five-member ground juries. Her results placed her at the top of the individual rankings for Central and South America.

Yvonne Loses de Muñiz rode Liebling II and two other horses at 11 shows in the United States against riders from other nations before ground juries that included at least three foreign judges. She placed second in the Olympic rankings.

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

The Dominican Republic federation said in a statement Thursday it was disappointed in the ruling by the three-member Tribunal and would consider its legal options. The federation had said before the decision that it was prepared to take its case to the Court for Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Jose Manuel Ramos, the Dominican Republic federation president, issued a statement:

“The Dominican Republic Equestrian Federation has received the FEI Tribunal decision, which denies our protest on each and every point we raised. Although very disappointed, we are not surprised by it.

“Our firm position is that the rules for Olympic qualification have not been complied with in this case, and we are reviewing our range of legal options with our lawyer in order to proceed accordingly.

“Finally, it is disheartening to see how the FEI has taken close to three months to decide on this time-sensitive matter, and how the final decision was issued at the final date of the 30-day limit. We will have further statements in the next few days.”

The Tribunal, made up of Jens Adolphsen of Germany, chairman, and members Armand Leone of the United States and Vladan Jetvic of Serbia, conducted its hearing behind closed doors in New York on April 4.

The Dominican Republic protested against the FEI’s approval process of Brazilian shows on Feb. 10-12 and Feb. 24-26, including approval of approval of the use of three judges who were Brazilian nationals and the late filings of the show schedules.

The Tribual found that exceptions to the rules that would allow the use of only two and not three foreign judges at events rated CDI3* or lower was granted to all nations outside Europe who applied, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States as well as Brazil.

“Therefore, the FDDE’s (Dominican Republic federation) that this was an exception not for the interest of all riders but only for the interest of Brazil is not supported by the evidence,” it said. “The first national federations to take advantage of the exceptions were Australia, the United States and New Zealand–not Brazil.”

Further, the Tribunal said, although an original document granting excpetions in the makeup of ground juries was issued for the World Equestrian Games in 2010 it did not include an expiration date, remained on the FEI Internet site and was applied throughout 2011 and 2012.

“The Tribunal finds that this exception to allow a minimum of two foreign judges for countries outside Europe furthers this objective to promote equestrianism outside Europe, because the majority of international events still take place in Europe and there is a need to increase participation in the sport in other regions of the world,” it said.

“Therefore the FEI Tribunal believes that the limitation of this exception to events outside Europe allows it to be consistent with the goal of developing equestrian sport globally and also Olympic ideals relating to universality in the sport.”

The Tribunal said it is aware that any reduction in the number of foreign judges “drives an event nearer to a more national event,” but FEI moves to promote equestrian globally “has to be accepted.”

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

The Tribunal said it found no “objective conflict of interest” in the role of judge by Col. Salim Nigri, dressage director of the Brazilian federation and chef d’equipe of the Brazilian team at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, last October. Several months elapsed between his position at the Pan Ams and the events at which he judged that, the Tribunal said, and thus did not create a conflict. Similar situations applied with some other federations.

If Col. Nigri’s scores were removed from the two CDIs, it said, the Brazilian rider would still qualify ahead of the Dominican Republic rider in the Olympic rankings.

Although the schedules of the Brazilian events were not approved in the time frame of 16 weeks provided for in FEI rules, the dates were on the calendar posted on the FEI web site for a considerable time before the events, the Tribunal said it “is convinced there was no unfairness to other riders,” especially as there was no evidence any athletes were prevented from competing because entries were rejected or of the short time frame.

“Further, the fact that Trond Asmyr (FEI director of dressage) testified that all of the results earned by the FDDE Athlete which counted towards her Olympic qualification were similarly earned at events where the schedules were submitted late, eliminates any potential unfairness issues in the Tribunal’s opinion.

The Tribunal said it was “important” to address the contention by the Dominican Republic that the Brazilian rider “had a significant advantage” because the shows were “organized by Brazilians for Brazilians and with a majority of Brazilian judges.”

Unlike some other FEI disciplines, dressage athletes do not compete against each other but “perform the standard test against certain objective criteria.” The scores awarded, not the order of placings, are applied for Olympic rankings.

“This element, which is quite unique to dressage, was an important consideration underlying this decision,” it said.

It said:

“Since there was no evidence presented that the Brazilian rider’s scores were markedly different in Brazil compared to other evenrts at which she had competed outside of Brazil, the Tribunal credits the FEI’s contention that there is no specific competitive advantage to participating at events with fewer participants in a rider’s home country because that rider’s dressage test scores should be the same independent of whether that riders competes at an event with a small field of competitors in that rider’s home country or at an event with a large field of competitors of different nationalities outside that rider’s home country.”