Christian Landolt: "The FEI Needs to Value and Support Its Officials More"

Tue, 05/09/2023 - 12:13
Christian Landolt :: Photo © Libby Law

Guest columnist of this week is Christrian Landolt (SUI), who recently resigned as an international FEI 5* eventing judge because of the reluctance of the FEI to address the growing problem of abuse committed against officials, and more generally, its lack of respect for them.

Landolt, who is closely connected to the dressage world, caused ripples with his resignation as he publicly stated that riders bully officials and threaten with lawsuits. This prompted Carl Hester to dedicate his column in Horse & Hound to the matter, while St. Georg's former editor in chief, Gabrielle Pochhammer, also dug into the matter with a column. She wrote that the FEI only received 5 complaints from 4,500 officials working last year. 

Christian Landolt has now shared his opinion with Eurodressage. 

 "The FEI Needs to Value and Support Its Officials More"

As an FEI eventing official for 26 years with strong links to dressage and para sport, I was lucky enough to officiate all over the world at top events, 5* and many championships including the 2008 Olympics. It was quite an exhilarating roller coaster ride. I enthusiastically embarked on this career at the suggestion of my then trainer Stephen Clarke. Many won’t know, but this choice is an expensive one, since (generally speaking) the training expenses are incumbent on the individual. With regret, I resigned from my role with the FEI this year.

Over time, I have become increasingly aware that the role of an FEI official greatly lacks clarity. Officials are volunteers – not formally contracted, nor paid, nor employed by the FEI – unlike in a typical professional scenario. This leaves officials in limbo when it comes to their rights. Although officials are the eyes and ears of the FEI on the field of play, in my experience, even constructive comments are all too often perceived as criticism by the FEI and departments within the organisation. I believe that, at present, FEI management is composed of very few former athletes or officials, which hinders their understanding of the situations faced on the ground. Sadly, all too often this creates a gap between management and officials.

The lack of consistency in the FEI’s social media policy is of concern to me too. At present, the FEI has an Officials’ Code of Conduct, which specifically prohibits Officials from “making any public statements, including to the media or in social media, that might cause harm to the FEI or to equestrian sport in general.”  In my view, there is no equivalent policy that applies to athletes, coaches, or owners, all of whom choose to compete under the FEI’s umbrella. I understand that the FEI lumps bad behaviour by those parties under the definition of Incorrect Behaviour in the General Regulations, but I have rarely heard of this actually being applied in practice to protect the welfare of officials.

These two points leave FEI officials very exposed, a view shared by the vast majority and only increased by geographical remoteness from HQ.

During my career, I have encountered many challenging situations. Most were interesting and educational to deal with. Increasingly, however, they have become difficult and stressful – a result of intimidation, bullying and lack of respect. It is, of course, part of the job to deal with spur of the moment heated reactions and we all accept these. However, when the attacks are premeditated, I do not believe it should be acceptable. Sadly, I am hearing reports that this is becoming increasingly frequent; verbal attacks as officials go back to their cars or head to the toilets, abusive comments on social media or even directly by phone calls and text messages. I have even heard that sometimes officials are threatened with legal proceedings. Officials, however, feel restricted in their avenues for response. Reporting such challenges is often perceived as a failure. Consequently, very few, if any, officials dare to speak for fear of retaliation, or negative impact on one’s career.

Last year, I formally reported two issues to the FEI. Surprisingly, and despite the fact we were at an FEI event under FEI rules, I was told it would be left to the national federation to deal with the matters. I did not find that to be satisfactory. I asked the FEI to review the rules on abuse of officials, as well as extending the regulations around social media to riders. My goal was to ensure that officials were protected in the future. I thought this change would encourage new officials, which the sport badly needs. I felt the FEI was unwilling to engage with me on the matter.

Eventually, I regretfully decided to resign after quarter of a century of service. I felt I could not continue to represent an institution that left me, and my colleagues, exposed. In resigning, I gained a voice and the opportunity to shed light on these pertinent issues. This decision has not been an easy one to take and it saddens me, but I do so because I care about the continuation of the sport.

Since resigning, I have received worldwide support including from the former chairman of the FEI eventing committee Giuseppe della Chiesa who has always been a champion for volunteers. No later than last week Carl Hester and Stephen Clarke endorsed my plea for change – this has been truly humbling. It is my parting wish now that the FEI seizes the moment to resolve these growing issues before they become unmanageable, and that the international governing body for equestrian sport stands by its officials who make the sport possible.

- by Christian Landolt

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