Horse racing’s world governing body has been lambasted by its own tribunal for failing to adequately punish a wealthy Arab Sheikh whose horse was repeatedly beaten during two international endurance races.
According to International Equestrian Federation (FEI) rules, Sheikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, should have been automatically disqualified from winning the King’s Cup in Bahrain in February after his groom ran onto the race track and struck his tiring horse several times in the closing stages of the 80-mile race, The Telegraph reported.
The incident was not reviewed by the federation until video footage was unwittingly posted by the event’s own broadcaster, attracting international condemnation.
Sheikh Mohammed was given a yellow warning card, fined 500 Swiss francs ($534) and suspended for the few remaining weeks of the Middle East winter horse racing season.
During his first race back on May 23, Sheikh Mohammed’s horse was again beaten while racing and suspended for two months.
Two British journalists - The Telegraph's Pippa Cuckson and Lucy Higginson, former editor of Horse & Hound – formally protested against what they said were lenient sentences, pointing to the FEI’s rules that state non-negotiable disqualification as the minimum penalty for horse abuse.
The FEI claimed that under double jeopardy an earlier punishment against the rider could not be reassessed.
Sheikh Mohammed argued that he had not solicited the intervention of the groom, whom he said was an over-excitable fan. The FEI also argued that the beating, while a breach of the rules, constituted only a “lesser kind of abuse”.
However, the tribunal found FEI endurance committee chairman Dr Brian Sheahan, acting as an expert veterinary witness, had observed that Sheikh Mohammed had hit the horse, establishing that the offence “had indeed occurred”. Therefore, the correct penalty was not applied.
“The tribunal holds that the ground jury had therefore acted arbitrarily in not imposing any disqualification,” the tribunal’s ruling says, according to The Telegraph.
“The tribunal does therefore not accept the double jeopardy claim by the FEI and the rider, and follows the protesters’ argument of applying the correct penalty for the offence in hindsight.”
The tribunal also said the original sanctions were not sufficient to deter the wealthy Sheikh, evidenced by his repeat offence.
“In support of their argument that the penalties imposed on the rider had not had sufficient deterrent effect, the protesters highlighted that the Sheikh had received another yellow card for horse abuse on May 23, the first FEI event he had competed in since the event,” the tribunal said.
It is the first time a sanction has been corrected in hindsight and that a protest not witnessed in person has relied on video evidence.
The Telegraph said the ground breaking ruling could impact the future enforcement of horse racing rules.
Last month, Dubai's HRH Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, wife of Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced she had stepped down as president of the FEI after two terms.
She said she wanted to spend more time with her young family and put a higher priority on humanitarian relief in the region.
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