Race for FEI Dressage Committee Chairman's Seat at Full Speed: Alonso, Richenhagen, Helgstrand in the Running

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 14:23
FEI President Ingmar de Vos addressing the audience in his opening speech at the 2019 FEI General Assembly :: Photo © Liz Gregg

The race for the highly coveted FEI Dressage Committee chairman's seat is going at full speed with the election of the new chair for the term 2021-2025 taking place at the FEI General Assembly in Antwerp, Belgium, on 14 - 17 November 2021. 

Three candidates are in the running for the position of Chair: Maribel Alonso (MEX), Martin Richenhagen (GER), and Ulf Helgstrand (DEN).

Kemperman Bids Farewell

After three terms as chair of the FEI Dressage Committee, Frank Kemperman (NED) says farewell to his position as captain of the ship.

The FEI Dressage Committee (DC) is the most powerful body within the FEI to determine the course of dressage as an international, Olympic discipline. It meets to decide on rule changes, competition formats, the judging system, and much more.  

"The FEI decision-making process is guided by expertise and knowledge from the sport and members of the sporting industry with subject-specific Committees representing all the disciplines, the athletes, veterinary science, administration (audit and compliance and nominations) as well as FEI Solidarity," the FEI writes on its website. 

The DC is constituted by a Chair (Frank Kemperman), deputy chair (Irina Maknami), the FEI Athletes Representative (Beatriz Ferrer-Salat), a show organizers representative (Patrik Kittel), a trainers representative (Monica Theodorescu) and a judges' representative (Andrew Gardner).  A position is up for re-election after a four year period.

Three candidates are officially in the running to replace him. 5* judge Maribel Alonso (MEX), former AGCO-FENDT ceo and former judge Martin Richenhagen (GER), and Vice President of the European Equestrian Federation (EEF) and president of the Danish Equestrian Federation Ulf Helgstrand (DEN).

How is a Chair Elected?

Frank Kemperman
The candidate for the chair of the FEI Dressage Committee is elected by all National Federations during a vote at the FEI General Assembly and then to the FEI Board for appointment.

In the lead-up to the General Assembly, two FEI committees independently from each other  - the FEI Nominations Committee and the FEI Dressage Committee - voice their recommended candidate.

FEI Nominations Committee

To be eligible for election, the candidates are vetted by the FEI Nominations Committee (NC). In the preparative document submitted by the NC for the 2021 FEI General Assembly, the NC stated that "the Nominations Committee generally favoured expertise over gender, nationality diversity or newcomers. Whenever candidates demonstrated a similar expertise, preference was given to the candidate based on gender, geographical and newcomer’s considerations. The Nominations Committee was very well assisted by the FEI staff."

The NC also added that, "the promotion of good candidates by all National Federations remains the decisive factor of success for an able and strong overall FEI structure and governance."

The FEI Nominations Committee is an independent body, composed by 9 members representing each FEI Regional Group with 2 members for the EEF Regional Group elected by their Regional Groups. It is chaired by Nayla Stössel (SUI) and has Paul Pereech (BER) as deputy chair. It further includes Wiveka Lundh (SWE), Olga Kogan (RUS), Diego Vallejo (COL), Guillermo Lockhart (URU), Hussam Zummit (LBA), Yuri Yagi (JPN), and Jean Michel Turlot (COD), 

Chair Stössel told Eurodressage that the NC "can make recommendations to the FEI Board and/or the FEI General Assembly. First and utmost the documents (CVs, motivational letters, support letters from the respective National Federations) are checked on formal correctness and whether the Candidate fulfils the objective eligibility criteria and whether is qualified for the job specifications."

FEI Dressage Committee

Maribel Alonso
The FEI Dressage Committee also votes on their recommended candidate. While the NC's recommendation is made public (in this case the NC has recommended Maribel Alonso), the recommendation of the FEI Dressage Committee is kept confidential.

Sources close to Eurodressage revealed that a vote took place in the DC and with chair Kemperman holding two votes to break a tie,  he voted in favour of Maribel Alonso. Kemperman would not confirm this vote to Eurodressage.

Osmosis Between NC and DC

Although the Nominations Committee is an "independent body", Stössel did communicate to Eurodressage that, "during the evaluation process, each FEI Standing Committee will communicate their comments and considerations for each individual Candidate to the Nominations Committee and may, if they so wish, specify which Candidate has the unanimous support of that Committee and the reasons why. It is the discretion of the Nominations Committee to follow these recommendations."

Internal Regulations of the FEI (Article 6.1.3) stated that "Nominations Committee proceedings, whether in-person meetings, by teleconferencee or video conferences, via email exchanges, or on intra-/extra-net sites, are confidential and therefore not subject to disclosure to third parties unless compelled by law.

Interestingly, the Chair Recommendation of the FEI Nominations Committee does not include a public motivation for their choice in candidate. The three candidates were also never personally interviewed, but vetted on their CV and mission statement (read the mission statements of Alonso - Richenhagen - Helgstrand).

Who Will Captain the FEI Dressage Ship? 

The three candidates for the chairman's seat  all share the same four pillars in their mission statement: welfare of the horse, communication and transparency, globality in dressage, and tradition vs. modernisation. 

Alonso says that we have to "take positive steps to improve and broaden communication of how we work to assure horse welfare. Dressage, more than other disciplines, comes disproportionately under fire for welfare. The benevolence of dressage should be communicated proactively." She wants to "base welfare decisions on scientifically derived observations and principles."

Ulf Helgstrand
Helgstrand said, "we must be able to confidently explain that what we do is 100 percent okay. Very often, the issue becomes very emotional, but we must support science so we can make decisions based on evidence and not emotions. In the future, I would also like to see that we have the same criteria for horse welfare across disciplines, otherwise it will become increasingly difficult for us to explain and defend. An example is the divergence regarding rules about blood during competitions."

Transparency and Communication

For the past decade one of the sore points of the FEI Dressage Committee has been their lack of communication with the greater public, as well as its ability to reach a large enough base of stakeholders through the National Federations.

Examples of this laboured and often "late'" communication include rule changes (short grand prix tests, blood rule, top hat rule) or adaptations to the judging system (the Code of Points system has been developed mostly behind closed doors). The Minutes of the FEI Dressage Committee are not shared with the press, so it often remains unclear on what topics the FEI Dressage Committee is working.

Richenhagen wrote that, "as far as the issue of transparency is concerned, there is, in my view, still a clear potential for improvement in communicating the decisions taken. Decisions are always supported if the reason, purpose and method in which they are made are also shared."

The Race is Open

Martin Richenhagen
It is Eurodressage's opinion that the FEI Dressage Committee needs a strong leader, who will keep a clear focus on the Classical Principles of Dressage, in relation to animal welfare AND the judging system; a person  who is able to communicate with stakeholders and press, lifting the vail of confidentiality and closed room sessions, and who is able to secure the financial means to develop the sport at all levels (competitions, judging, education), and instil confidence amongst stakeholders that they are included in the decision making process.

Despite recommendations from the current FEI Dressage Committee and FEI Nominations Committee, the race for the chairman seat is still wide open. It will depend on the vote of the representative of each individual National Federation at the 2021 General Assembly in Antwerp, who will be the new Chair of the DC.

The lobbying for this highly important position is at full speed as the battle is not yet over as to who will take over the leadership of international dressage sport.

Photos © Astrid Appels 

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