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Towards an International Federation Worthy of its Name

"We have found ourselves as a moment of stark decision. Can we summon the courage to draw wisdom from our reversals, or will we allow our courage to be broken by those reversals?" writes Akaash Maharaj.


Akaash Maharaj
28 April 2011

Horse Sport International

ALMONTE - This year, the International Equestrian Federation celebrates it ninetieth birthday, and in many vital ways, our sport has never been stronger: the number of international-level horses, riders, drivers, and vaulters is at its highest level of all time; the enforcement of horse welfare and anti-doping regulations, while still imperfect, is nevertheless at its most advanced of all time; the range of countries with podium prospects is at its broadest of all time. Yet, the FEI is indisputably showing its age, as its traditional structures creak under the strains of those very successes.

The expansion of our sport has caused demands for services to grow faster than the FEI’s resources. The debate over where pharmaceutical treatment of horses crosses the boundary between care and abuse has exposed the FEI’s discomfort with dissent. The emergence of new equestrian powers has confronted the FEI with a responsibility to simultaneously nurture the ambitions of developing nations while sustaining the achievements of developed nations.

For the better part of the last decade, the FEI has made valiant efforts to modernise itself. Some of those efforts have succeeded; many have come to grief. The 2009 Copenhagen proposal, which would have created an FEI board of directors elected purely on skills rather than geography, was defeated outright at the General Assembly. The initial 2011 Lausanne proposal, which would have created a more agile board elected by continental representation, was prudently withdrawn, as a consensus seemed unlikely to materialise by the date of the Extraordinary General Assembly.

There is no denying that the setbacks have taken their toll, diverting energy, sapping enthusiasm, and dulling the collective willingness to embrace the risk of progress. Nevertheless, the global equestrian community has remained unanimous in our conviction that modernisation of the FEI is critical to the sustainability of our sport.

We have, therefore, found ourselves as a moment of stark decision. Can we summon the courage to draw wisdom from our reversals, or will we allow our courage to be broken by those reversals?

To its credit, rather than retreat from reform, the FEI has instead pressed ahead by taking a leap of faith.

Turning aside its precedents, the FEI president and executive board have passed the reins to the national equestrian federations ourselves, and asked us to take responsibility for modernisation of our international federation.

A Constitutional Task Force, made up of representatives from national federations across the globe, will guide the process. Cesar Camargo Serrano of Colombia, Paul Cargill of Australia, Kim Gueho of Mauritius, Ulf Helgstrand of Denmark, and I will be responsible for leading meaningful and informed consultations, amongst federations that are succumbing to constitutional fatigue; brokering honourable compromises, between regions who have sometimes seen their interests as being in conflict; and forging a unity of purpose, in a community that literally encompasses the full diversity of the world. It is not a mission for the faint of heart.

If we are to have any chance of success, our Task Force must itself uphold the principles we would have the FEI embrace.

Our conduct will be open to the full glare of public scrutiny. Our consultations will be broad, deep, and sincere, in the certainty that the wisdom of the FEI lies in the many and not the few. We will invite criticism and respect dissent. We will approach our task with humility, understanding that we discharge a public trust in service to others who are not at the table. We will freely publish our meeting agendas and conclusions. We will look to the best interests of the entire international equestrian community, and not to any particular sector or region. We will lead by example in our efforts to foster a culture of democracy, accountability, and transparency.

We will begin our task by laying our plans and ourselves before the judgement of the national federations at the Lausanne Extraordinary General Assembly in May. Our intention is to continue with consultations throughout the summer, to help develop a new constitution to remake the FEI into a modern institution equal to its mandate and worthy of its name.

It is a daunting and rare opportunity for national federations to transform the organisation that is our guardian over six thousand years of equestrian heritage. If we are to be deserving heirs to the generations of equestrians who came before us, and creditable stewards to the generations to come, it is our duty to ensure that the FEI is capable of building upon our inheritance.

All of us on the Constitutional Task Force are more honoured that we could say to have been invited to serve our sport, the community of equestrian nations, and the FEI in this process, and howsoever it unfolds, we will work tirelessly to justify the faith they have shown in us.

Akaash Maharaj is Chair of the FEI Constitutional Task Force and Chief Executive Officer of Equine Canada. His personal web site is www.Maharaj.org.

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