Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muñiz Redeemed by Court on Olympic Qualifying, Quits Riding Career Over FEI Tactics

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

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Yvonne Losos de Muñiz, the only rider from the Dominican Republic ever to win medals at the Pan American Games, believes the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s findings redeemed her in the battle over Olympic qualifying procedures but has quit her competition career because of the “unacceptable extremese” employed by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) in the dispute.

The 45-year-old mother of two children said she had been forced to sell her horses to pay costs incurred in her legal challenge before an FEI Tribunal in New York and by CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland to the FEI’s approval of events in Brazil with three home country judges instead of two on the five-member ground jury.

CAS ruled that Brazil should fill the sole place from South America at the summer Olympics because it would be “unfair” to deprive Luíza Tavares de Almeida from the Games who had ridden in qualifying events with three home country judges in the expectation they were conducted properly.

But the three-member court described the FEI implementation of a rule enabling events outside Europe use only two foreign judges instead of three as an “oversight” that was “more than a little unfortunate as it lies at the heart of this dispute–a dispute that has caused unnecessary upset and uncertainty” for the two riders and the Brazil and Dominican Republic federations. The FEI at a meeting after the Olympis formally annuled the rule, effective Jan. 1, 2013.

Yvonne began competing in dressage in 2001 and won individual bronze medals at the 2003 and 2007 Pan American Games, held once every four years as the largest multi-discipline sports event in the world after the Olympics. She rode Liebling II to second place in the Olympic rankings for South America based on results at CDI3* events in the United States that were before ground juries with a minimum of three foreign judges.

CAS ruled in July against the Dominican Republic appeal over the selection procedures but did not publish its complete findings until Monday.

“Following the publication of the ruling from CAS that represented the end of my Olympic participation attempt and after careful consideration and much thought, I have concluded that much to my regret it is now time for me to withdraw from participating in the sport I love, to which I have dedicated much effort for so many years,” she said in a statement to dressage-news.com from her home in Santo Domingo.

“My decision is not a result of losing the appeal, but rather a direct and unfortunate consequence of the manner in which I was treated by the FEI, specifically by its Dressage and Legal departments, during my protest and appeal.

“I feel at least vindicated that the CAS panel finds in its just-published decision that the FEI and its Dressage Department are ultimately to blame for this fiasco. The CAS panel concluded that it would be unfair for the rider from Brazil to lose the points that ultimately allowed her to participate in the 2012 Olympics.

“Unfortunately, that meant that I lost my right to be a part of that event. I assume it was easier to be unfair to me than to the other rider, which is hard to understand.

“Nonetheless, the panel repeatedly points out how the FEI and its Legal Department failed to convince them that the famous 2010 Exception Memo was correct in its application and spirit, and instead maintains that the FEI failed in doing its job of applying the Olympic Qualification rules correctly in the Brazilian events.

“It view of all this, it will be very difficult for me to continue competing in the sport of dressage after witnessing the unjustified, unfair and biased approach that the FEI Legal Department, headed by its Legal Counsel Lisa Lazarus–who worked in very close coordination with the other respondent, Brazil–used to confront our protest and latter appeal before both the FEI Tribunal and CAS, despite being at fault for its mismanagement of the 2012 Olympic Qualification events held in Brazil.

“The FEI legal team went to unacceptable extremes during the entire process by questioning the motives for my protest and appeal, diminishing my professional capabilities and dismissing my personal accomplishments in an all-out attempt to ensure that we lost the case.”

“I was repeatedly portrayed by the FEI in a manner which totally contradicts my values as a professional athlete with regards to fair play, sportsmanship, training and riding. My motives for filing the protest were characterized by Mrs. Lazarus as those of a sore loser and improviser. My personal life and my decision to train and compete in the USA, as do many other international riders in that country or in Europe, was examined and questioned to the point of promoting ridiculous, unfounded allegations.”

She accused the FEI of investigating where she lived and what brand, model and color vehicle she owned in the U.S. aimed at showing she was a permanent resident “which I was not and never have been” as well as implying–“incorrectly”– that she had part ownership in the equestrian center where her horses were stabled. Almost 300 other hunter, jumper, polo and dressage horses of owners, riders and trainers from around the world competing on the Florida winter circuit stable at the same facility.

“All this was done to apparently demonstrate that I had ‘connections’ and received ‘favorable’ treatment from local event organizers in that country, which is unfounded and untrue as well as offensive not only to myself but to all the riders, organizers, staff and volunteers that make up the wonderful circuit in Florida,” she said.

“We were also threatened in no uncertain terms by Mrs. Lazarus during both the FEI Tribunal and CAS hearing that if we won the case, the FEI Secretary General might retaliate by annulling the scores I obtained in the CDI events that I participated in the USA since they were organized without full compliance with the FEI rules, according to her.

“Even our witnesses´ motives to testify were unfairly questioned. I had the privilege to count with the support of Eva Salomon, prior FEI Director of Dressage, Michael Stone, prior FEI Secretary General, and Carl Hester, Olympic, European and WEG medalist, as my witnesses. During their testimony, all three endured unfair insinuations as to why they were supporting me, and in all three cases it was implied that personal or financial motives were behind their decision to do so.

“This innuendo was untrue–all three testified in my favor because they believed there was a clear breach of the rules in the Brazilian events and my protest and appeal were completely justified.”

Yvonne Losos de Muñiz riding Dondolo Marisma at the 2011 Pan American Games. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

More damaging to her career and future in the sport, Yvonne said, was that FEI Legal Department prepared and gathered witness statements against her from the entire FEI Dressage Committee, the FEI Director of Dressage as well as more than 10 international judges.

“It is bewildering and unacceptable that judges were also not protected but instead drawn haphazardly into this process, considering my position as a rider and how I was depicted by Mrs. Lazarus and her associates before them,” she said.

“It is also incomprehensible that the FEI Legal Department specifically chose to involve judges who would be a part of the 2012 Olympic panel, in view of my possible participation in that event if I won the appeal. In an unprecedented move, nearly the entire dressage section of the FEI was called to testify against our side in this case.

“As an athlete, I had absolutely no protection, support or consideration from the FEI at any point of this process, and certainly even less from now on. My position was attacked with a ferocity and recklessness that was in my opinion simply disproportionate and appalling by its clear bias and unprofessionalism.

“Instead of looking to see what could be done in order to ensure a fair solution, the only response from FEI since the onset of the case was to delay, deter, threaten and bully in order to make sure they prevailed. Instead of looking for ways in which both the Brazilian rider and I could participate in the 2012 Olympics, as was done already at the 2004 Olympics in a similar case, the FEI turned the case around as a trial against me, apparently for the audacity to challenge the status quo. Fortunately, at least now the decision from CAS sheds a different light on this story and who is really to blame.”

Yvonne said she fears the FEI’s treatment of her coupled with FEI efforts to raise Pan American Games competition to Grand Prix level from the current small tour will adversely affect dressage in South America.

It is, she said, “difficult for me to continue competing in a sport where its apparent that a rider from a small country that has no resources to organize international events–much less future Olympics–invite numerous international judges, or sponsor expensive competitions, will not be respected, protected and considered on equal grounds by its international federation, even when that governing body has acted incorrectly and knows it.”