Corruption in Endurance horseracing - phantom races, horse welfare and the way forward

Published 02 November 2015 By: Elizabeth Rhodes, Arun Chauhan

UAE_Endurance_Racing

Horseracing, as with many professional sports, is no stranger to a number of different types of scandal including allegations of corruption, including fraud, - most notably - race fixing, and doping to improve (or reduce) the performance of a horse. Recently, however, a lesser-known form of corruption has come to the fore within the discipline of Endurance racing – that of staging of “phantom” events.

This article explores the detrimental effects that phantom races (like so many other forms of corruption) have had on horse welfare. It then explores what is being done by the International Equestrian Federation to tackle and improve horse welfare before stepping back to reflect upon what more the industry could do to fight corruption at source.

 

What are phantom Endurance races?

Endurance racing is a long-distance horse race where participants race each other against the clock often over distances from 80km up to 400km.1 In March 2015, Telegraph newspaper alleged that ‘bogus’ or ‘phantom’ Endurance races were occurring within the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the sport is particularly popular.2 The story revolved around two 80km races that were recorded as taking place on 23 December 2014 and 21 January 2015, although the Telegraph alleges that they never took place. The races supposedly acted as qualification heats for February’s 160km President’s Cup; motivation for which could have been financial gain although, given that gambling is prohibited in the UAE, is likely to have been to affect rankings and allow competitors access to more prestigious races.

Unusual patterns within the race results recorded on the official website of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI - the international sports federation that governs a number of equestrian disciplines, including Endurance) raised the suspicions of the Telegraph, as the data included identical results to previous genuine races.

Following this exposure, the Telegraph reported that it had discovered a further ten allegedly ‘phantom’ races taking place within the UAE recorded on the FEI database.

The FEI ordered an independent investigation into the scandal, which resulted in it suspending the UAE National Federation.3 Under the terms of the suspension, the UAE National Federation was not permitted to:

  • Attend or be represented at any session or meeting of any body of the FEI;
  • Organise international events; and,
  • Its members were not allowed to participate in any international events (although UAE athletes from disciplines other than Endurance could compete under the FEI flag in international competitions organised outside of the UAE). 

Why is horse welfare a concern in Endurance racing?

A point that is perhaps under appreciated outside of horseracing is the significant detrimental effects that corrupt practices have upon horse welfare.

Horse welfare within Endurance racing is a particularly big concern,4 and led to stricter Endurance rules5 being introduced by the FEI in August 2014. One key point arising out of the alleged phantom races fraud is that horses recorded as running in the phantom races (80km) qualified for more strenuous competitions (160km) without being competition fit, and were therefore more susceptible to injury or death from the significant additional exertion required (in an event already known for testing the physical exertion of the animals through regular veterinary inspections before, during and after a race). The overall issue of effective horse welfare proved pivotal in the FEI’s decision to suspend the UAE National Federation. In their release, the FEI president was quoted as stating:

"The decision to suspend a National Federation is not something that is taken lightly and we only should do this if no other remedy can be found,” …. “Sadly this was the only option left, but we have to take our responsibility and must never be afraid of tackling major issues head-on. Where horse welfare is concerned the FEI has to show leadership and solve problems in a structural way without making any concessions."

"We were confident that strict enforcement of the new rules implemented on 1 August 2014 following adoption of the recommendations from the Endurance Strategic Planning Group would be effective in reducing the numbers of catastrophic injuries and fatalities in the UAE, but regretfully this has not been the case. There have also been other major non-compliance issues, so in the end we had no other choice than taking this drastic measure to deal with an unacceptable situation.6

Reinstatement of the UAE National Federation was dependent upon it signing an agreement to protect horse welfare and comply with FEI rules, which it duly did, and the FEI announced on 27 July 2015 that the suspension had been lifted. The Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) has guaranteed that horse welfare will be fully respected and the FEI rules will be stringently enforced at all endurance events, both national and international, in the country. The EEF is required to provide monthly reports during the 2015/2016 season as to steps taken to ensure on-going compliance with FEI rules.7

 

How is the FEI addressing horse welfare concerns?

Those involved in the equine industry will welcome the news above. However, although steps are now being taken by the UAE National Federation to protect horse welfare, given the seeming prevalence of such corruption and the direct adverse impact that it has on horse welfare, it seems apt to investigate the approach that the FEI is taking to combat such behaviour and how effective their approach has been in protecting horse welfare.

The FEI is the governing body for all international events in Jumping, Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage, Eventing, Driving and Para Equestrian Driving, Endurance, Vaulting and Reining.8 It establishes the regulations for these disciplines and approves equestrian programmes at Championships, Continental and Regional Games as well as the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The FEI works alongside 132 National Federations, which are the FEI equestrian governing bodies in their respective countries, e.g. the British Equestrian Federation.9

It is clear that horse welfare is one of the FEI’s key priorities and the FEI Code of Conduct10 dictates that welfare of the horse should be paramount above all other considerations. Through its initiatives over the years, the FEI has played a major part in addressing the equine industry’s approach to horse welfare. The In 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games demonstrated the FEI’s commitment to horse welfare by introducing “strict anti-doping tests will be conducted during the two weeks” of the championships.11 In April 2010, the FEI also introduced a online Prohibited Substances Database.12 The database was introduced to “provide clear guidance on the substances included in the Equine Prohibited Substances List” so anyone involved in equestrian sport, especially riders, vets, officials, managers, coaches and grooms, the ability to understand and adhere to the new Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations.13

Despite this these efforts, the FEI and others have recognised that more can be done to tackle horse welfare. In December 2014, at a FEI general assembly, Roly Owers, chief executive of the World Horse Welfare,14 queried whether National Federations were actively placing welfare at the heart of their strategies.15 The FEI publicly confirmed its support for addressing abuses of equine welfare.

As explained above, the FEI’s firm approach regarding the suspension of the UAE National Federation was welcomed by the equine industry. Corruption within the equine industry is often met with demands for harsh sanctions to deter such acts.16 However, do these sanctions actually work? Although the FEI did impose a suspension on the UAE National Federation, it can’t be overlooked that the alleged phantom races were discovered not by the FEI but by Telegraph from its analysis of publicly available data on the FEI database. Is it possible for organisations like the FEI to actively prevent corruption rather than reacting to the discovery of such acts?

Although the FEI suspended the UAE National Federation, the course of action available to the FEI was arguably limited given that it only had knowledge of such scandals once they had already occurred. The damage to the integrity of Endurance racing had already been done and the only available action was to impose a harsh, albeit deserved, sanction as ‘punishment’ for acts already committed in the hope that such a harsh sanction will deter future corruption in the sport.

The suspension of the UAE National Federation directly affected sportspersons competing in Endurance racing as mentioned above but will the individuals who allegedly devised the scandal be punished? Even if they are, will it make a difference? Does the industry really have the buy-in of the key stakeholders in the sport that is so fundamental to improving welfare and tackling corruption at its root?

 

WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE TO HELP TACKLE CORRUPTION?

The investigation above illustrates the connection between corrupt practices and one of its most high profile – and perhaps saddest – casualties: the welfare of the horses.

In the authors’ opinion, there are a number of measures that equestrian sporting bodies could implement to actively prevent corruption, many of which could also be implemented by other sporting bodies worldwide:

  • View sport organisations as businesses: Sport bodies provide occupation for many people and its survival is dependent on commercial success.17 Businesses should adopt a proactive approach in preventing the risk of corruption and dealing with discovery of the same in an efficient manner to minimise the loss suffered. Sporting organisations need to do the same and look outside its own sector, in particular, at other sectors’ corporate governance strategies, in order to achieve this.
  • Giving responsibility to individuals: The majority of businesses have a whistleblowing policy to allow their employees to raise concerns confidentially in respect of, for example, fraud, health and safety.
  • Clearly define a counter-fraud strategy: Creating a detailed fraud policy specifically documenting, amongst other things, how the relevant organisation will deter and respond to fraud is the first step but will not be effective unless implemented across the organisation and its membership.
  • Regularly train employees and members: Training all employees and members on the nature and impact of corruption and the policies will reduce the risk and occurrence of fraud and corruption.
  • Establish a fraud or risk and compliance team: A team with the responsibility to regularly monitor the security risks to an organisation can be an effective part of an organisation’s counter fraud strategy. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) seems to be leading the way in the UK by adopting a specific intelligence function to monitor the market. Admittedly, the BHA are a very well resourced governing body. However, there is scope for international bodies and national governing bodies to share resources. However, additional funding may still be needed to address these issues effectively. How this funding could be obtained is a question for all sports stakeholders.
  • Establish a code of conduct: A code of conduct specifically tailored to tackling fraud and corruption for the membership of equestrian sporting institutions could help change the attitudes of individuals associated with the sport. This is a difficult task for any sector but one to which equestrian sport needs to commit over a long period of time.
  • Zero tolerance: Equestrian sporting bodies should have a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to corruption and act on this. Many sporting organisations will say that they already have a zero tolerance to corruption but this is meaningless if their actions do not support this and it is not carried through on and off the field of play. A breach of any rules should be sanctioned consistently to give confidence to the regulatory system and to deter those who may be inclined to breach the rules.

 

THE WAY FORWARD

The measures proposed above do not constitute an exhaustive list of how to address such issues, but are food for thought as to what could be achieved if the sport buys into a stance of zero tolerance to corrupt practices.

The authors appreciate that the risks and occurrences of corruption can never be eliminated in its entirety as such activity is predominantly driven by individuals. However, minimising the opportunities by implementing the controls discussed above would make a difference. The big questions for equestrian sport to address are (1) is zero tolerance to corruption truly desired and, if so, (2) how could this be achieved?

 

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Author

Elizabeth Rhodes

Elizabeth Rhodes

Elizabeth is a member of the Fraud and Risk team at DWF LLP and advises clients in respect of a wide range of commercial disputes with a particular focus on complex fraud disputes. She is a member of the Midlands Fraud Forum and Fraud Women’s Network.

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Arun Chauhan

Arun Chauhan

Arun jointly heads up the Fraud and Risk team at DWF LLP, and specialises in commercial litigation arising out of complex corporate fraud disputes. He deals with a broad range of fraud investigations, bribery and corruption investigations and fraudulent misrepresentation claims arising out of investments or acquisitions in cases of value up to £100m.

Arun chairs regional meetings for the Fraud Advisory Panel and is a member of the Midlands Fraud Forum.

Tel: 0845 404 2391

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