Sound, Fury, and the Judgement of History
06 November 2010, 19h45 EDT (GMT-5)
Just World International
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The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) 2010 General Assembly has come to a close, and the delegates have dispersed from Taipei back to their home countries. A casual observer of the final day could easily make the mistake of believing that the sound and fury of the previous week signified nothing: in the end, the two most controversial questions besetting equestrian sport were answered with muted harmony.
In the presidential elections, the incumbent Haya Bint Al Hussein was re-elected in a landslide of epic proportions, winning 73% of the vote on the first ballot. The scale of her victory gives her an unambiguous mandate to press on with her institutional reforms, and an opportunity to effect a conciliation with those who did not support her. As for the new policy on the use of equine non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, it was adopted unanimously and without a word of discord, quietly ending one of the bitterest episodes the FEI has ever endured.
Immediately before the president formally ended proceedings, the FEI’s secretary general kindly called me to deliver the General Assembly’s anchor address on a subject close to my heart: our duty as leaders of the international equestrian community to serve the broader public good. My text is below.
I returned to Canada from Taiwan this evening, to act for our national team and federation the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and to relive another round of jet lag and physical exhaustion from zigzagging back across the International Date Line.
Representing our country on the international stage is one of the greatest privileges to which any of us can aspire, and I hope the Canadian equestrian community will judge me to have been a worthy ambassador in Taipei.
* * *
President and Members of the Bureau, colleagues and friends
We are at the end of a long and stressful day, which closes a long and stressful week, and I know better than to stand too long between anyone and the bar. I will therefore offer you only a few personal words.
Although I am the Chief Executive Officer of Canada’s national federation, the Bureau has done me the honour of inviting me to also draw from my experiences as an equestrian athlete with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, about our shared capacity as national federations to harness our sport to drive global humanitarian efforts.
Throughout this week, we have been fortunate to receive presentations from Just World International, a charitable organisation that enables equestrian athletes to come to the aid of some of the world’s most vulnerable and destitute children. They have offered the FEI and national federations a series of options to join hands with them and become part of their mission.
I imagine that every one of us who has heard Jessica Newman speak has thought that it all sounds terribly worthy, but has also wondered whether such partnerships are really the business of sport organisations, or a reasonable use of our members’ scarce volunteer and professional resources, especially at a time of economic uncertainty.
I should like to make the case that social responsibility and public service are not simply appropriate paths for us, but part of our core responsibilities as national federations and as people of conscience, and I am very proud that Equine Canada has taken up Just World’s invitation.
In the soaring words of the Olympic Charter, the very purpose of all international sport competition is to foster "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" and "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."
But high words cast a long shadow over low deeds, and if these Olympian ideals are to have any meaning, they must inspire in us a conviction that when we design our federations and conduct our affairs, we do so always looking towards our ultimate calling: to serve and advance the human condition.
The connection with sport is obvious: the ethics of good sportsmanship are the cornerstone ideals of an honourable society: fair play; gallantry towards teammates and adversaries alike; equality of opportunity in the pursuit of excellence; humility in victory and grace in defeat. In many ways, the ideal of the level playing field is a metaphor for the universal yearning for a fair and meritocratic world.
But while all sports have an opportunity to serve the greater good, I believe that we as equestrians have a special calling and greater responsibility.
Others play at their sports: they may play football; they may play cricket; in Canada they certainly play hockey. But we – we are equestrians. Equestrianism defines us and what we are in a way that no mere game ever could.
We all know that ours is one of the few sports where men and women compete with and against one another on terms of absolute equality. Rarer still, it calls upon the decency and compassion of one partner to put the welfare of the other ahead of any question of personal ambition. For six thousand years, equestrianism has symbolised all that is most noble in the human spirit, and has been the source of the code – indeed of the very word – of chivalry.
Each of us in this room has been blessed by our peers with the privilege of serving as their chosen global governors for our sport.
As such, each of us is nothing, if not a living memorial to the generations of men and women who came before us. If we are to be deserving heirs and worthy stewards of this heritage, then our first responsibility is to build upon our inheritance.
In the European steppes, the first generation of horsepeople brought the horse into human society, and the world became a better place.
In Asia’s Indus Valley and in the Middle East’s Mesopotamia, drivers made the horse the engine of civilisation, and the world became a better place.
In Africa, Numidian cavalry ushered in the age of empires, and the world became a better place.
In the New World, countless equestrian volunteers risked and sometimes sacrificed their lives to spirit thousands of escaped slaves out of the United States and into Canada, out of bondage and into freedom, and the world became a better place.
In the fullness of time, when our age is brought to judgement, future generations of equestrians will inevitably ask of us, "With all the wealth you accumulated, with all the status you held, with all the power you wielded, what did you do to make the world a better place?"
I should put it to all of us, that if we are to hold our heads high before the judgment of history, we must be able to reply that ours was the generation of equestrians that heard our calling and embraced our responsibilities to our fellow human beings in a globalised world. That now was the time, and we were the people, who cemented the institutional relationship between equestrianism and humanitarianism.
Because if we do this, together, as national federations and as an international equestrian community, then we will be able to reply, that we too made the world a better place.