FEI Blamed by Court for “More than a Little Unfortunate” Mistake Allowing Exceptions to 3-Foreign-Judge Rule In Brazil Olympic Qualifying

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Yvonne Losos de Muñiz riding Liebling II in her quest to qualify for the London Olympics. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

An “oversight” by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) to enable Olympic qualfying events to be held with only two foreign judges without approval for an extension was blamed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for causing “unnecessary upset and uncertainty” for riders from Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

But to rule against the results of Brazil CDI3* events that led to Luíza Tavares de Almeidat competing at the London Games as the sole representative from South America would have been “unfair” to the rider, the court said in its 29-page decision.

The complete decision on an appeal by the Dominican Republic federation and Yvonne Losos de Muñiz over FEI approval of some CDI3* events in Brazil to use three home country judges instead of two was distributed Monday by the court based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The court issued an initial decision in July upholding an FEI Tribunal rejection of the Dominican Republic appeal, but did not give its reasons at the time. The court comprised Dr. Hans Nater and Prof. Ulrich, Haas, both of Zurich, Switzerland, and Jeffrey G. Benz, a Los Angeles, California, attorney. Click CAS Final Decision Oct.2012 for the ruling.

The case centered on some of the eight events that counted toward Luíza qualifying for Brazil as the rider from South America with the greatest number of points and thus win a start in London. The events had the required five judges, but the FEI granted an “exception” that allowed three Brazilians and two foreign judges instead of three foreign and two home judges.

Yvonne earned her points at CDI3* events in the United States all of which had at least three foreign judges. She finished second in the rankings.

The “exception” to three foreign judges in Olympic qualifying competitions outside Europe was based on a memo issued by the FEI for qualifying for the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

The court rejected challenges to Salim Nigri as one of the three Brazilian judges because he had previously served as chef d’equipe for the Brazilian team and was dressage director of the Brazilian federation.

He was not serving as chef d’equipe at the time he was judging the competitions and his role with the federation “is the type of position that many FEI judges hold” and was not an issue that could be the basis of challenging the results of the competitions.

“As to the composition of the Ground Jury,” the court said, “the Dressage Olympic Ranking List requires that the Ground Jury for CDI3* events have at least three foreign judges, but gives the FEI Dressage Committee the right to accept reasonable exceptions to this rule in the interest of riders and the sport in general.

“The FEI claims that this is what the FEI Dressage Committee did in creating the exception to the three-foreign-judge rule for CDI3* events outside of Europe, as memorialized in the Exception Memo in January 2010 and consistently applied since then to the present day.

“The Panel disagrees.”

The court cited testimony from Anne Gribbons of the United States, a member of the Dressage Committee since 2010 when the memo was issued, that the Dressage Committee “gave no thought to the Olympics or any issues related to Olympic qualification ranking at that time.”

There was no intention by the Dressage Committee to create an exception to the three-foreign-judge rule for the Olympic Ranking List which did not exist at the time and was not issued until nearly a year later, it said.

The exception was applied throughout 2010 receiving positive feedback “and so the FEI Dressage Department simply continued to apply it though there is no evidence that the FEI Dressage Committee ever decided to extend or renew it.”

“More importantly, there is no evidence that the FEI Dressage Committee ever subsequently considered, much less decided, to create an exception to the three-foreign-judge rule under the Dressage Olympic Ranking List once that List came into existence,” the court said.

No one in the FEI Dressage Department or the Dressage Committee was shown to have “ever considered the issue.”

“The Panel considers the FEI’s oversight in this regard more than a little unfortunate,” it said, “as it lies at the heart of this dispute–a dispute that has caused unnecessary upset and uncertainty for Mrs. Losos de Muñiz and Ms Tavares de Almeida, as well as their national federations.

“It does not, however, provide a basis for deciding not to include the results of the Competitions in the Olympic rankings.”

CAS said there was no provision in the Olympic ranking rules for automatic exclusion of results and the FEI Dressage Committee had not taken action to do so under the fairness provision.

The Dominican federation created the impression with the FEI it accepted the three-foreign-judge rule with some concerns but did not object to the organization of the competitions.

The majority of the Panel also considered approval of the competition and inclusion in the official calendar as well as the fact there was no objection in advance “created a legitimate expectation on the part of the riders who participated that the results would count towards the Olympic rankings.”

“The decisive argument for the Panel, however, is that the riders have no influence on the organization of events and no ability to know whether the organizer has a valid exception to the three-foreign-judge rule under the Dressage Olympic Ranking List,” it said.

Luíza Tavares de Almeida on Pastor, the horse she competed at the Olympics in London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“Moreover, in this case there was no showing that the BENF (Brazil federation) or Ms Tavares de Almeida violated any applicable rules in the qualifying process.

“In light of this, the Panel considers that it would be unfair to Ms Tavares de Almeida not to include the results of the Competitions in the Olympic rankings because of a mistake that occurred elsewhere–namely within the FEI.

“This is especially so given that neither Mrs. Losos de Muñiz nor the FDDE (Dominican federation) has put on any evidence that having only two foreign judges on the Ground Jury affected the results of the Competitions in any way, much less that it benefited Ms Tavares de Almeida. Indeed what evidence there is on this point demonstrates an absence of nationalistic judging on the part of the Brazilian judges, including Mr. Nigri.”

The court ruled that the FEI and the two national federaions will split the costs of the arbitration equally and that each party bear its own legal fees and expenses.