When Eric Lamaze is on the warpath, you’d best not stand in his way. Abby Gibbon reports on the Canadian show jumper’s reaction to teammate Tiffany Foster’s disqualification.
Top photo: Eric Lamaze and Derly Chin de Muze, London 2012, via SmartPak.
Canadian Olympic show jumper Eric Lamaze finished 29th aboard Derly Chin de Muze in the individual competition yesterday—but in days to come, looking back on London, the 2008 Beijing Olympic individual gold medalist’s mediocre finish isn’t what we’ll remember.
On Monday, the Fédération Equestre Interationale disqualified Victor, mount of 28-year-old teammate Tiffany Foster, on the basis of hypersensitivity. In a subsequent press conference, Foster, the center of international contention and a first-time Olympian, understandably battled tears, relating the personally “devastating” effects of disqualification only after she’d expressed her horse’s welfare as being of foremost concern.
Veteran teammate Lamaze was less diplomatic, polemically deeming the decision a “complete miscarriage of justice,” attributing the horse’s sensitivity to a “superficial cut.” (The ostensible purpose of hypersensitivity testing is to identify horses whose legs have been artificially sensitized, producing painstaking jumping efforts at the expense of welfare and competitive integrity.) Within six minutes, according to Lamaze, five people poked Victor’s leg 50 times. Between the lines, Lamaze was perhaps hinting that hypersensitivity wasn’t a surprising outcome.
Disconcertingly—because in the context of Olympic disqualification, aren’t concessions necessarily disconcerting?—and as if in the wake of a narrow election, a scattering of official, concessional statements accompanied the ordeal. HRH Princess Haya, president of the FEI, quickly professed “absolutely no accusation whatsoever” of wrongdoing. Equine Canada proffered that they “fully support the FEI in its hypersensitivity testing protocol.” And of course, if you search it out, concessional language was already on the “Hypersensitivity in Equestrian Competition” page of the FEI website: “hypersensitive limbs are not necessarily a result of a manipulation to the legs….”
Whatever Equine Canada’s intention in supporting the FEI’s disqualification (indeed, what was it?), one doubts it was upping the proverbial wattage by further incensing Lamaze, whom former Equine Canada CEO Akaash Maharaj has called “perhaps the greatest equestrian athlete Canada has ever produced,” while in full glare of the Olympic spotlight.
But unfortunately for Equine Canada, that’s exactly what happened; Lamaze publicly announced he’d stop riding in team events until Equine Canada took a stronger, supportive stance behind Foster, his statement only to be followed by another high-profile dissent from Maharaj in yesterday’s Globe and Mail:
The regulations are absolutely legitimate. The FEI’s attempt to apply them to Foster’s situation was absurd.
The FEI has conceded that there is no suggestion that Foster acted improperly, neither through malice nor through negligence, neither through omission nor through commission. The FEI Veterinary Commission did not even bother to take the horse out of its stall to examine it further or to test its movement for any signs of discomfort. There is no evidence that the horse itself was even aware of the scratch, other than when it was poked repeatedly.
By wrapping indefensible decisions in the false flag of horse welfare, the FEI has done more than wrong individual athletes. It has brought its commitment to horse welfare into disrepute, and demonstrated a willingness to make its most important rules the enemies of the most basic standards of justice.
And then yesterday–lest they lose Lamaze? lest other top equestrians launch their own criticisms?–Equine Canada changed its tune (bold emphasis added):
“Victor sustained a superficial cut on the front of the left front coronary band,” states Canadian Olympic Team Veterinarian for Jumping Dr. Sylvie Surprenant. “In our opinion the horse was fit to compete as he showed no signs of lameness. However the FEI hypersensitivity protocol is such that if the horse is sensitive to the touch, regardless of the cause, the horse is disqualified. While the FEI rules for the hypersensitivity protocol were followed, we believe that there should be a review of this protocol.”
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Lamaze, on the world stage, under international pressure, produced effects by sticking his course. What becomes of the hypersensitivity protocol remains to be seen. But, at least for the moment, the issue is on the table.