and proposing changes for the better. His commission ended up partnering with the Ljungqvist Commission
for Clean Sport, headed up by Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC Medical Commission and vice president of the World Anti-Doping
Two hours were set aside for presentations on the topic. Delegates heard powerful speeches from the leaders of the joint
commissions on wide ranging reforms for medication control and the “professionalization” of the sport. Lord Stevens
pulled no punches. Equestrian was “as good as dead” if it was not clean.
So the room was nothing short of stupefied when FEI veterinary director Graham Cooke dropped into his presentation a brief
item that delegates would be voting for the controlled use of phenylbutazone—banned outright 20 years ago—and
two non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Significant global players—the United States, Germany, Ireland, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden—made
impassioned pleas for zero tolerance. But when the secret ballots were cast, “bute” was back in international
competition by a margin of 53 votes to 48.
Even FEI vice-president Sven Holmberg was moved to tell the floor, “What you have just done has cut the legs off
the clean sport campaign. If you thought recent media reaction against rollkur has been tough, just wait to see what happens
A request in the afternoon for a re-vote from the German president Breido Graf zu Rantzau—backed by Ireland and Britain—was
rejected on the grounds that some delegates had gone home, and that there had been no ambiguity about the motion.
The controversy lay in the separate choice between continuing with an Oct. 20-dated list of prohibited substances (also
referred to, confusingly, as the “current list,”) and adopting a “progressive list.” The latter does
not prohibit phenylbutazone (up to 8 mcg/ml in plasma or serum), salicylic acid (up to 750mcg/ml in urine and up to 6.5 mcg/ml
in plasma or serum) and flunixin (up to 500 mcg/ml in plasma or serum) so long as those substances are not detected in a horse's
sample above the prescribed limits noted and are used in isolation and not combined.
The progressive list also sanctions acetycysteine, dichloroacetate (lactanase) and isoxuprine.
Where Did This Come From?
The FEI seemed as baffled by the furor as delegates were by the FEI’s matter-of-fact delivery of the bute option,
and its apparent failure to have rehearsed any sort of rationale or justification for the inevitable barrage of questions.
At first the top table replied that the move had come ”from the industry,” prodding Bo Helander, the Swedish
delegate and former FEI chief executive to ask, “I have been in the FEI for 30 years and have never heard of this mysterious
body, ‘the industry.’ What is it, and what place does it have in the FEI?”
Noting that the threshold for bute was three-times the previous threshold before the outright ban, Helander also thought
FEI budget forecasts would now be at risk. Major commercial partners such as Rolex would surely not wish to be associated
with a sport tolerant of certain drugs.
"If the FEI accepts this, there will be uproar in many countries. It's completely unacceptable for horse welfare, and changes
the whole philosophy of the FEI," said Helander.
Graham Cooke then offered the rationale that the featured anti-inflammatories were variously still tolerated by racing
authorities and/or the U.S. Equestrian Federation. USEF CEO John Long swiftly grabbed the microphone to reject any inference
that USEF had initiated the move. “That is not our position, and we do not support it,” he said.
The following day, FEI officials explained their position further.
“The Prohibited Substance List adopted by the FEI General Assembly on 19 November—the 'Progressive List'—allows
the restricted use in competition of a limited number of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory substances at very low levels. The
World Anti Doping Agency has no restriction on the use of NSAIDs for human athletes. We should be able to treat not only our
human athletes as approved by WADA, but also—and under similar principles—our horses close to competition. These
very low levels have been established based on scientific evidence specifically to protect the welfare of the competition
horse. The data that was requested was to establish the levels needed to provide minor anti-inflammatory relief only.”
Not all delegates seemed to have received a notice sent out on Nov. 13—just six days before the vote—about
the Oct. 20 progressive lists. Ulf Helgstrand, president of the Danish federation, urged the FEI to park the issue of the
progressive list until a later date.
"If we introduce the list, I'm afraid the public and sponsors will shoot us down and say we only want to stop the number
of positive tests,” he said.
Frank Kempermann, director of Aachen and incoming chairman of FEI dressage, warned that he would lose sponsors. "I can't
understand how this proposal can be made. Our message is clean sport. How can we justify that to sponsors if we allow bute?”
Only one delegate, a veterinarian from South Africa, lent support. He thought it reasonable that bute could be given if
a horse stepped on a stone or suffered a mild colic the day before a competition. "If it happened to a human, he would be
allowed to take Voltaren [diclofenac] and ride," he said. "It is so expensive to get a horse to an event, we should be able
Clean Sport Proposals Accepted
Earlier, the overall package of clean sport proposals was overwhelmingly approved to the satisfaction of the joint-commission
chairs, Ljungqvist and Lord Stevens.
Apart from an extended list of prohibited substances and a clear division between the offences of doping to affect performance
and genuine medication errors, all the other clean sport proposals previously publicized were adopted. These include an independent
integrity unit, tighter stable security and access, “professionalization” of officials and veterinarians to reduce
vested interests and education programs. National federations will be expected to bring their domestic medication controls
in line with the FEI’s and testing laboratories will be harmonized round the world.
New sanctions start with a minimum two-year ban for actual doping offences. Lesser offences can be dealt with for first-timers
with an on-the-spot fine. A confidential hotline will allow people with concerns about suspected offenders to help intelligence-led
investigations, which may include out-of-competition testing. Sample-testing will also be more transparent.
A revised Clean Sport microsite was due to go live immediately after the assembly, and the legal department has produced
a layman’s guide to the rules.
“Ultimately it was down to the equestrian community to make the final decision, and they have voted in support of
the package as a whole. The two Commissions have put in an enormous amount of work to come up with these recommendations,
and it is particularly gratifying that we have received such overwhelming support for the clean sport campaign from the national
federations,” said Ljungqvist.
“We said yesterday that the FEI needed to adopt these recommendations before it could be given a clean bill of health.
They have been approved by a massive majority, and now the sport can move forward,” said Lord Stevens.
Princess Haya’s repeated urgings that the bute controversy should not be allowed to detract from the overall significance
of the meeting seemed likely to go unheeded, but it was clear that she was emotional when addressing delegates after they
had approved the reforms she has promoted with a passion for the past year.
“This is a true landmark moment in the history of our sport. The overwhelming support of the national federations
is proof that we are moving in the right direction thanks to the incredible work done by the Ljungqvist and Stevens Commissions.
This vote has given us the power to roll out Clean Sport and allow us to restore the public image of our sport as a clean
and uncorrupt product,” she said.