Wrap-up FEI Sports Forum: Q & A with FEI president and Secretary General

The ned of the two-day-conference FEI sport Forum was summarized by a closing speak my President Ingemar de Vos and followed by a Question & Answer session for the assembled press on-site and online.

Closing words by Ingemar de Vos,

After touching upon the many sessions held at the forum Mr De Vos came to a point on the two-day conference that obviously was very important for him.

“We signed the Grooms Charter and that opens also a new chapter in our relationship with the stakeholders in our groups. As I said, it took 100 years for the FEI to recognize the grooms as part of our family, part of our community –  an essential part of our family. I look forward to continuing that work as well as with the International Grooms Association, but also with the grooms. I also look forward to the Grooms Consultative Group, which is still a committee at the level of the FEI where all the relevant stakeholders that have a relationship with grooms are very present together with the grooms to look at how we can continue to help them in order to improve things.”

Mr de Vos commented on the session about hosting championships and the bidding drought when it comes to championship bids from organisers.

“The session was a bit more complicated, I must say. I think we identified the fact that everybody needs and wants championships, also continuing championships in the non-Olympic qualification years. That’s an important information for us. We all identified a lot of issues that are hindering organizers from putting forward their applications. We will probably need to create a group of people with all the relevant stakeholders represented like athletes, organizers, and national federations. With the purpose to see what we can do to make it better and easier and more viable for organizers to bid.
And to be honest, I don’t have a solution for the European championships in jumping, eventing, and para-dressage for 2025. We are still working on some possibilities, and we need to see what we can do.

But I must be honest with you, I cannot promise anything. Because you need a couple of parties to make that happen. You need an organizer that wants to do it and we need to see how far we can go to convince this organizer. We need to be also very careful not to create precedents.”

He then moved on to touch upon a few concerns raised from all the initiatives that were presented during the day regarding how to make championships more appealing for organizers.

“I could hear the cashier wriggling. Ka-Ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

As I said some years ago, we do not have a printer in the basement of the FEI HQ that prints money. So we need to be realistic. But I can only commit that we will try to do our utmost to have these championships in 2025. But what we really need to look at the future additions, and what we can do to make life easier for organizers. To organize and to have viable and successful championships. “

FEI president Ingemar de Vos


Q & A with president and Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez

The Q & A session kickoff with the Secretary-General and the President giving a brief view of their perception during the two days spent with delegates, over 240 signed up to visit on-site in Lausanne.

Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez spoke about the importance of the Sports Forum.

“I think what this year, yet again, showed is that it’s really about dialogue, that we admit that we don’t have all the answers, but it’s really important to talk with our constituents directly, with all the stakeholders. Because It’s not that easy to figure everything out. And we really need, our riders, our organizers, our national federations, and even those people who are interested in the sport in general, to provide us with their feedback. This is why there is a call for action with the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Action Plan as with the championships, safeguarding, and the whole sustainability topic. It’s really like, we need to work together as a community.

And I think this is the great thing about the sports forum. It’s not us dictating to others the way things are, but really trying to come up with proposals and really say, this is our thoughts about a certain topic – And what do you guys think about this? And how can you help us?

It is no longer only what the FEI should do, but it’s what everybody should do. And so, it’s more a dialogue than it was in the past, it was sometimes very much restricted and limited to looking at proposed rules, and revisions. But now it’s more like a dialogue about much larger topics that concern all the levels of the pyramid and all types of stakeholders. It’s sometimes very important to have a dialogue just to identify some issues and how we can address them together.

In the past, perhaps when we would send out a document before the sports forum or whatever, everybody thought it was a done deal. And It wasn’t. It was just, this is one way of looking at it. And maybe now, after all these years, there is an understanding that this is just a thought. Please provide us with your feedback because we can’t do this alone.”

Secretary general Sabrina Ibanez


Q: from IAEJ, Kim C Lundin
When you received the huge report, 51 pages from the Equine and Ethics Wellbeing Commission, was it as expected? It seems like there’s a lot of tasks handed over to you. And for the FEI to act out on in detail, will you need to increase the workforce in Lausanne to do all these tasks?

A:Sabrina Ibáñez

“Some of the tasks are going to require financing. I think this is why for us it was very…

It was kind of daunting when we saw the final report and when we realized there were actually 62 or 64 action points. And they were like, oh my God. Oh my goodness.

And for a short while I thought maybe some of these things are already being tackled, but no. So for us, it was really important to come up with this matrix. And it took us for ages just to figure out what this was going to look like. So we could really understand. It’s like the statistics that were shown today with the gender. What are the issues? What are the problems? So that really helped. I don’t really think we’re going to have to increase the staff.

I think we’re just going to have to organize ourselves a little bit differently. But it is true. There are some recommendations in there and some possible proposals that are going to cost money.

And then we need to figure out how we’re going to finance that stuff. Does it mean that we’re going to be required to look at some of the things that we’re doing now and maybe not do them anymore and concentrate on that? Because as Ingmar mentioned, we don’t have a money machine in the basement. And there’s only so much we can do with the operational income that we’re receiving.

But again, daunting, as I said, specifically trying to figure out what it is that needs to be done. But we know we’re not alone in this and I think that is one important factor that everybody appears to have really understood now. Everybody has a responsibility.

Everybody now realizes more so than two years ago or three years ago that we all have to adapt the way we work and the way we think. And that is comforting.

A: Ingmar de Vos

“But I think we also knew what was coming to us because there were updates, Interim

reports, updates at the sports forum, at the session of the General Assembly. So sometimes even we asked the commission to tackle some additional points. Just explaining these relationships and giving some scientific background about these relationships that we are telling everybody that existed for thousands and thousands

of years is necessary to have some more justification and motivation for that. But I think we knew what was coming to us. And that’s very good. But we will probably also have to set some rules. We will have to set some priorities. There are things, quick fixes and there are things that need some further research probably. And there are some things that we need to look at in what timeline we can do it. But we are ambitious to do the right thing.”


Q: from IAEJ, Kim C Lundin

You stated yesterday in the inaugural speech that you invited “critical friends” to come and help you out. Are they still friends of the FEI? And is there a specific reason why the rest of the commission was not here, like Professor Nathalie Waran and so on?

A: Ingmar de Vos

“First of all, if we are still friends, you need to ask them. From our side, I think yes. On the other hand, I mean, they delivered. I mean, in terms of reference from the start, it was made clear that a final report would be provided to the FEI board, which they did in November of last year. It was at FEI headquarters that started making a proposal of an action plan that we at the sports forum here have shared with our community to look at. I’m not excluding that in the future, there will be maybe some initiatives to invite some of these people back to help us with certain aspects. But I mean, they have not delivered the plan but the report. We have now to take our responsibility. And I think you need to separate the different parts of the plan, of the process.

So that’s the reason that they were welcome to follow online and some commission members were here and present. But we did not want, again, to invite the committee to… I mean, they have done their work. They have given their opinion.
We know their opinion. Now we need to look at how we are going to implement it. I mean, what are we going to take on board and what are we going to implement? So that’s a different phase in the whole process. But I think we are still friends. And as I said, we have a lot of respect and we are very grateful for the work they have been doing.
And they were critical friends because they were people that in the past have criticized us. And I think it shows it’s a good practice to ask the people who are critical to say;

OK, then tell us what we have to do in your opinion. But in the end, we will have to decide what we are going to do and maybe what we are not going to do.”

Q: Grand Prix Magazine, Sebastian Rouiller, editor-in-chief

As you said, some points may be quite easy or not so difficult to tackle. And some are a little more difficult or controversial for example talking about the rollkür debate. There is probably a huge gap between Dr Eva Van Avermaet whom you met last week in Fontainebleau and Michael Klimke who spoke out yesterday during the Sports Forum. We know that this is not the only problem, but it’s one of the most important and visible problems even in the upcoming Olympics. What could be the path to finding the right balance?

A: Sabrina Ibáñez

Our experience has been very good. And I think it has always been shown that the best way of doing that is actually the whole consultation and people sitting around the table and then providing forums such as this one to really discuss matters. And it’s true that back in 2000, I think it was Princess Haya who held the first two forums on hyperflexion back in 2009.  And we didn’t follow that up. There is clearly… a need for follow-up and as was mentioned by Göran Åkerström, things have changed since then. And there are other aspects that need to be looked into. But I sincerely believe that when you get people around the table and you continue to discuss, discuss, discuss, in the end, reason wins overall. I think that if we do follow up with the forum, the task force, whatever you want to call it, in the very near future, we’re going to get there.

A: Ingmar de Vos

I think the answer is always somewhere in the middle. I met Dr. Van Avermaet in Fontainebleau and I must say she was very positive about the training session in Fontainebleau, the dressage. She was very positive about it, She then said, “But it was done like that because I was here.” No, it was not done because she was there, because we cannot steer the rider how they train. But I think that is the good thing, I mean, all these challenges, there are also opportunities and good things, is that I think there is a growing awareness also with the athletes, how they present their sport and how they act on the field of play and at home and in the paddock. So I think that regretfully the cases we have been confronted with have led to a growing insight also from the athletes that they need to think about what they are doing and that what 30 years ago was maybe acceptable is not any longer acceptable. I think that is the good side of it is that it works as an education project in the end. And so I’m very happy with the comment of Eva Van Avermaet and I had a long conversation with her in Fontainebleau. It was very constructive. So thank you as long as you keep the dialogue open.”

Q: World of Showjumping, Nanna Nieminen, editor/owner

What about when you [ed. Note the FEI] mentioned athletes now and then the importance of communication came up quite many times during the forum. Why does the FEI then choose to endorse riders like the Syrian rider Amre  Hamcho, whose family have connections to the Syrian war, or Saudi rider [Abdullah Al Sharbatly]who this year already has two warnings?
If we talk about athletes and communication and good examples, then why do you the FEI choose to endorse these kind of people?
Because I think when you speak about communication, I think there’s a lot that the FEI could improve there. And I would be curious to know kind of how do you see our own communication.

Link to story
Link to post

A: Sabrina Ibáñez

And how do we endorse them? I’m sorry you took me a bit by surprise here.

A: Ingmar de Vos

But I mean, let’s separate certain things. We are a sports organization. We are not a political organization. I don’t know all the families of all the riders and I don’t know what all the families of all the riders are. Should we then punish a rider for what the family is doing?

Q: World of Showjumping, Nanna Nieminen, editor/owner

No, but can you not think of anyone else to endorse? Then if everyone also here said we need good examples, there are good people in the sport. But then you choose to endorse the bad ones.

A: Ingmar de Vos

I’m not aware.

A: Sabrina Ibáñez

Okay, me neither. But point taken. We can look into it.

A: Ingmar de Vos

Sorry to say, but we had the great finals in Riyadh. And from a sports perspective, it was great. And I can understand that at that certain stage, some local riders as it is in the first final,  in that region that our SoMe-team thinks maybe to promote some more local riders, maybe not thinking about, if they are even not aware of these warnings.

A: Sabrina Ibáñez
I mean and this is something that I can accept that there is a lot of work to be done when it comes to reviewing FEI’s social media and communication strategy I could say that.

A: Ingmar de Vos

But there will always be errors or whatever you can call it –  only those who do nothing cannot do anything wrong. I mean the leadership is not aware of this endorsing so we apologize.

Stakeholders signing the grooms charter


Q: World of Showjumping, Nanna Nieminen, editor/owner

Could you tell us a bit more about the groom’s charter and what it entails?

A: Ingmar de Vos

It should be published by now, I am sorry.  The most important thing here is that for a hundred years, grooms have been ignored and I made it one of my points in my presidential manifesto to do something about it.  Because when I was a chef d’equipe and chef de mission in a National Federation I had to deal a lot with grooms and I sometimes was very shocked about how they were treated by their employers,  whether it is owners or riders, something had to be done. We started that process back in 2019 already by reaching out to them and guiding them to create their own representative association with the goal of involving them as a group also in the decision-making process as we do with all other stakeholders like athletes, organizers, officials, trainers with whom we all have what we call memorandum of understanding. An MOU  is basically a document where we lay down that we officially recognize each other, that we respect each other and that we involve each other in the decision-making process when it comes to rules and regulations that they are affected or potentially affected by. That’s basically what we want to do. Why do we want to in addition to create a groom’s chart? We believe it’s important that not only the FEI has this MOU with these grooms but that also other entities that much more than the FEI work with grooms like the owners/athletes/organizers that they also are involved in an official recognition process with the grooms. That’s basically the charter where on the one hand the charter the grooms take some engagement but the other signatories are also taking some responsibility in how they work / deal/respect grooms. That’s basically the goal of the chart but as I said in my introduction this is only a starting point I mean there is a lot of work to be done not necessarily always by the FEI but in the relationship between these different organizations with grooms to provide good facilities for toilets/shower /access to food.  Owners or Riders or whoever owns the stable to provide fair work conditions. You hear what grooms have to do,  work the whole day from the morning till the evening late at the show and then have to load the lorry and then even drive the lorry for a whole night to somewhere else. These are practices that I feel need to be addressed and there should be a solution for that. And we can only do so much. We cannot impose anything there because it’s outside of our jurisdiction, but we can bring these parties together so that they start and establish a dialogue. And that’s why we have, why we will also maintain this group, this grooms’ consultative group in which all the relevant stakeholders are presented to continue this dialogue. And maybe at a certain moment to go to further statements or agreements in which they recognize the rights of one and the other. I think it’s a process and we are at the start of the process. But I think it’s due time to start the process. It’s a milestone for the grooms I think to have this now and I’m very proud that the FEI could facilitate it.

A: Sabrina Ibáñez
I’m recognizing they’re an official stakeholder and should be also consulted on certain aspects as well which wasn’t the case before. We recognized the owners, the riders, the officials whatnot but not the grooms.

A: Ingmar de Vos
We included them in the evaluation for all important events but basically for all events we have now reports and the grooms are invited to feed into the report so that also from their part we understand what issues we need to address and if there are any of course what issues eventually we have to address with the organizers.

Q: Tidningen ridsport, Anna Nyberg, journalist

You mentioned before that you may have to see over the economy and what you could afford to do when the horse welfare projects take more resources. Could you give us an example of what you’re doing now that you may not be able to do in the future?

A: Sabrina Ibáñez
It’s first of all hard, first, we need to know what we’re going to do in the future. That is actually something that we’re looking at already right now to see what are the things that the FEI should be delivering and what things that are nice to have but we should not or that we try to do and are not really functioning. So that is an exercise that we are actually conducting right now in the FEI and we hope to be able to provide a status report to the board in June. And then of course now with all these other initiatives that are coming in we’ll have to compare and see where cuts are required and where they’re not required. But it’s a hard exercise because also, we are a service organization but all the services we provide they’re costly and a lot of our expenses now are going to IT development or all that kind of digital stuff. Because it’s not only the seeding money that is that is going to be used but it’s also going to be used to provide the support that is required. But every year or two years you need to upgrade the system and it costs a lot a lot of money. It provides a lot of solutions but it costs a lot of money. So that is an exercise that we’re undergoing already right now. I would be able to tell you exactly what we’ll be cutting and whatnot

Q: Horses.nl, Rick Helmink, journalist, posing a question in the online forum

There was a partial media boycott for the World Cup finals, a lot of discussion about sports washing, human rights and how does the FEI look back on these World Cup finals.

A: Ingmar de Vos
Well, I was there. And I can only say that there was no issue at all. No issue was reported to us regarding any kind of discrimination. I am aware of the fact that some media thought it was important to boycott it. But let me say one thing. We, again, are a sports organization. And sport is a good tool, let’s say it like that, to bring people together. We have very clear provisions also in our hosting agreements that everybody who has the right to be there and to compete has to be accepted. And there has been no issue at all. I want to underline that. And that some people want to… Abuse sports for political purposes. Well, I can only regret that. But we should be realistic. We cannot expect sport to solve what even the United Nations is not able to resolve. So we can only open the dialogue. And having such an important event in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, with that outcome. It’s very good for me. And it’s also a reason to promote gender equality and diversity. So there was nothing to be reported. So I don’t see why for Saudi Arabia that was perceived as being a problem. Whereas we have had many other competitions in the region where it never has been a problem. So I don’t understand why they are specifically targeting Saudi Arabia.

I can only say that I visited the country several times. And that I saw incredible improvement. Especially how women are treated. There was nothing to report there. But you need to be clear, if we have to look at all the different aspects, there are in the end, not… If we talk about human rights, there are in the end not that many countries where we can go. So sport opens doors. Sport gives us the possibility to promote things. Do we live in an ideal world? No, of course not. But that’s in all parts of the world. And in all countries.

….and there your IAEJ representative had to cut the reporting short and sprint for the metro-train-airport-flight back to Copenhagen.

At your service for the greater good of our IAEJ community / Kim C Lundin, not secretary-general, just secretary 😉