Russian Equestrian Federation Loses Appeal with FEI Tribunal against Being Barred from Sport

Thu, 05/26/2022 - 10:51
"the case file does not have any evidence that the equestrian sport in Ukraine has been shut down"

The Russian Equestrian Federation has lost its appeal with the FEI Tribunal against being barred from FEI sport. 

The FEI Tribunal panel, consisting of Harveel Thauli (CAN), Cesar Torrente (COL), and Armand Leone (USA), ruled on 23 May 2022 after a video conference hearing was held on 28 April 2022. 

The Russian Equestrian Federation (FESR) was represented by Sergey Yurlov and Maxim Kretov.

Eurodressage selected some statements from the official FEI Tribunal decision document. The integral document can be viewed here.

Factual Background

After Russian military forces invaded Ukraine, the International Olympic Committee’s (the IOC) Executive Board made an urgent recommendation on 25 February 2022 to all International Sport Federations (IFs) that they relocate or cancel their sports events in Russia and Belarus.

On 28 February 2022, the IOC’s Executive Board further recommended that the IFs not invite or allow Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials to participate in international competitions to protect the integrity of global sport competitions and for the safety of all the participants. On the same day, and at the request of the FEI Executive Board, the FEI Secretary General removed all FEI Events scheduled to take place in Russia and Belarus in 2022 from the FEI’s calendar.

The FEI Board decided to follow the IOC Recommendation and voted to adopt the following Emergency Board Resolution on 2 March 2022 (the Resolution):

The FEI Board condemns the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces and the support provided by the government of Belarus.

Further to the recommendation of the IOC Executive Board on 28 February 2022 and the request of the FEI Executive Board and as a protective measure to secure the integrity and safety of FEI Competitions, the FEI Board agrees to the following Emergency Board Resolution in accordance with Article 20.3 of the FEI Statutes:

To prohibit all Russian and Belarussian Athletes, Horses and Officials from participating in FEI Events until further notice. To enable an effective implementation of this Emergency Board Resolution, the prohibition will take effect as of midnight (CET) on Sunday, 6 March 2022. This Emergency Board Resolution also excludes the possibility of Russian and Belarussian Athletes (Equine and Human) and Officials from participating in FEI Events under the FEI flag and/or in a neutral capacity.

In the meantime, the Russian and Belarussian flags cannot be displayed or the Russian and Belarussian anthems cannot be played at (or in connection with) any FEI Events.

Russia Appeals

On 5 March 2022, the FESR sent a Notice of Appeal to the FEI Tribunal contesting the Resolution and asking the FEI Tribunal, “To cancel the FEI Board Emergency resolution regarding prohibition on the participation of Russian Athletes, Horses and Officials in FEI Events as political [sic] discriminatory on a [sic] ethnic grounds and contrary to the legal and ethical norms of the FEI Rules and Regulations.” 

On 14 March 2022, the FESR objected to Martin Gibbs’ appointment as a hearing panel member. The FESR submitted that Mr. Gibbs lacked impartiality because of his role as a Special Advisor to the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR), which had issued a statement on 25 February 2022 condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine (the CSHR statement). 

Several letters were sent back and forth about Gibbs' appointment on the hearing panel. In the end he was replaced by Dr Armand Leone (USA). 

"Alleged Invasion," Discrimination

According to the FESR, the FEI Resolution to ban Russia impacted more than 600 Russian Athletes, including 159 Athletes registered to participate in FEI Events in 2022, and 152 Officials

The FESR stated that "there is no evidence that the alleged invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces constitutes an “emergency basis”. Furthermore, the case file does not have any evidence that the equestrian sport in Ukraine has been shut down, Ukrainian Athletes face risks to their lives, and Ukrainian Athletes are restricted from practicing the equestrian sport."

Amongst other arguments, FESR believes that it is discrimination against Russian Athletes and Officials and considers this FEI resolution as punitive and disproportionate. The Resolution has had a financial impact on FESR Athletes and Officials, who have received invoices for “no shows” to FEI Events that they are prevented from attending.

The Russian federation also argues that, "there have been other recent military conflicts, including between the US and Syria, Israel and Yemen, and Turkey and Cyprus. The FEI and other IFs did not impose sanctions on sport." 

FEI Defends Position

The FEI Board was satisfied that an Emergency Situation existed for the following reasons: a) The circumstances relating to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces have been widely reported and documented. The invasion met (and still meets) the definition of an Emergency Situation because it was (and remains) a serious situation or occurrence that happened unexpectedly and required immediate action even when only viewed in the context of equestrian sport.

The military action effectively had the effect of shutting down equestrian sport in Ukraine, placing the lives of Ukrainian Athletes, Officials and Horses at risk and severely limiting, if not completely restricting, their ability to compete in FEI Events. By adopting the Resolution, the FEI Board wanted to ensure the fairness and integrity of FEI Events

All voting members, with one exception, voted to approve the Resolution. Only Marina Sechina, the FESR President, voted against the Resolution.

In response to the FESR’s assertion that the Resolution’s purpose is “to punish the FESR along with the Athletes/Officials”, the FEI submits the sole purpose of the Resolution is to protect the integrity and safety of FEI Events.

FEI Tribunal Decision

The FEI Tribunal dismissed the appeal and provided the following motivation, amongst other points (click here).

The FEI Tribunal confirmed that "the Russian military invasion of Ukraine has been widely reported on different media platforms. It is difficult to ignore what is happening in real time such as a cluster bomb landing on an apartment building in Mariupol or a school in the Luhansk region. These images are real and enough for this Panel to state that a reasonable person would conclude that Russian miliary forces invaded Ukraine and the war is ongoing."

"It is not only the invasion itself that presented a serious and unexpected situation requiring immediate action but also the consequences of that invasion. Some consequences are actual and others potential but they are sufficiently serious to support the FEI Board’s immediate action to adopt the Resolution. The Panel agrees that the Resolution supports the principle of a level playing field and is a protective measure to ensure the safety and integrity of FEI Events."

The Panel agrees that the potential for boycotts could arise if FESR Athletes, Officials and teams were permitted to compete in FEI Events. Boycotts were a potential reality at the Winter Paralympic Games and the 2022 World Championships until the IPC and FINA respectively reversed their decisions, which initially allowed Russian athletes and teams to compete. Any boycott at FEI Events would seriously challenge the goal of harmonious collaboration.

The FESR suggested the FEI was mixing politics with sport when it adopted this Resolution. However, we have actual examples of prominent Russian athletes wearing the symbol, Z as a sign of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is mixing politics with sport with an enormous megaphone. This Panel states that FEI Events cannot be used as a political platform.

The FESR mentions other military conflicts where the FEI and other IFs did not impose sanctions on sport. The Panel is not in a position to comment on other military conflicts except for this one, which precipitated the Resolution. Furthermore, it cannot be understated that the Russian government breached the Olympic Truce, the period of time meant to encourage global peace that extends before and after the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This is a situation where the rights of the individual must be weighed against the interests of the collective. Article 2.1 is, first and foremost, based on the principle of equality and mutual respect between all NFs. The invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces clearly does not espouse this principle.

If Ukrainian Athletes cannot compete because they are focused on their survival, then FESR Athletes should not be allowed to compete. If there is the potential for boycotts and protests, then the Resolution properly protects the interests of the collective by preventing FESR Athletes and Officials from participating in FEI Events.

Related Links
Equestrian Community Brings Aid and Relief to Ukrainian Refugees
Update on the situation in Ukraine and support to the Ukrainian equestrian community
Russian and Belarusian Athletes, Horses & Officials Prohibited from Participating in FEI Events
FEI Removes all International Equestrian Events in Russia and Belarus