Q&A - Authority, Liability and Responsibility of FEI Officials

1.   Who has the authority to make a decision on-site at an FEI Event?

As a general rule, FEI Officials are the only persons with the authority to make decisions on site in relation to FEI Events/Competitions; in doing so they are acting on behalf of the FEI.
The reality is that the vast majority of FEI Events take place without any representative from FEI Headquarters/FEI Executives on site.
From time to time these representatives do attend and can be available as a resource for FEI Officials who may want to check something with them, e.g. the interpretation of a particular provision of the rules. This is often the case where a Protest is filed. The Ground Jury’s right to request advice in relation to a Protest is specifically dealt with in the FEI General Regulations Article 161.13 “The Ground Jury may request the advice and assistance of a representative of the FEI in order to ensure the correct Protest procedures, as set out in this Article 163, are complied with.”
Representatives from FEI Headquarters can also be available to advise FEI Officials on best practices or provide information on the outcome at other FEI Events where a similar situation/incident occurred, etc.
However, the final decision on all on-site and competition related matters rests with the relevant FEI Officials.

2.   Can representatives from FEI Headquarters and/or FEI Executives overrule an FEI Official Decision on site at an FEI Event?

FEI Officials are not directly answerable to representatives from FEI Headquarters and/or FEI Executives on site.
To the extent that there is a breach of the rules by an FEI Official in the course of the Event or some kind of misconduct, the process, as set out in the FEI Rules, is that the matter is reported/referred to both the FEI Legal Department and the FEI Director Education & Officials for follow-up in accordance with the disciplinary system contained in the FEI General Regulations (GRs).
According to the new disciplinary system approved at the FEI General Assembly 2019, the FEI Legal Department has the authority to directly sanction so-called “Minor Offences” under the Administrative Disciplinary Process (see Article 163 of the FEI GRs and see Q &A - Administrative Disciplinary Procedure). Any disciplinary decision taken in relation to an FEI Official is always subject to prior consultation with the FEI Director Education & Officials and the relevant FEI discipline Director.
Where an Official is not applying/has not applied the rules correctly, this is something that should be followed up, and in more serious cases dealt with according to the disciplinary process set out in the rules. The FEI Staff does not have any power under the rules to intervene directly onsite.
Of course, if it is a serious issue and an FEI Staff member/FEI Executive is on site, the FEI Staff Member/FEI Executive can advise the FEI Official of his/her view on the correct approach but the final say/decision must be with the Official.
Of course, serious Horse/Athlete welfare issues might be excluded from the above analysis given that all reasonable steps must be taken to minimise any such risk.

3.   Can representatives from FEI Headquarters and/or FEI Executives attend any FEI Officials’ meetings or hearings in case of a protest or incident?

If their presence is requested by the Officials and, where relevant, the other parties (e.g. Athletes/Chef d’Equipe etc.), representatives from FEI Headquarters and/or FEI Executives may attend any FEI Officials’ meetings or hearings in the case of a protest or an incident.

4.   Jurisdiction – EHV-1 By-Laws

Given the recent EHV-1 outbreak, the FEI adopted the FEI Post-EHV-1 Return to Competition By-Laws (“EHV-1 By-Laws”) that are intended to protect FEI Horses and global equestrian sports from the consequences of infectious diseases being transmitted before, during and after FEI Events.
As a consequence and notwithstanding art. 109.12 of the FEI General Regulations, the FEI Secretary General shall have the authority to cancel an Event, including an Event that is in progress, with immediate effect, if:
- an EHV-1 outbreak has occurred at the Event; or
- there is one or more suspected cases of EHV-1 on site; or
- based on veterinary/epidemiological advice, cancelling the Event is necessary to prevent an EHV-1 outbreak occurring.
Please refer to the EHV-1 By-Laws for the details on the FEI increased jurisdiction, and in particular in article 3.3. It is also important to highlight the following provision pertaining to FEI Officials: “Notwithstanding the cancellation of an Event and its related period of jurisdiction, the FEI Officials on site (and any other FEI Officials that the FEI may appoint to assist with containing the outbreak) shall continue to have the authority to act as FEI Officials and represent the FEI onsite until such time as the FEI deems that their presence is no longer required.”

5.   What happens if an FEI Official takes a wrong decision?

Anyone can make a mistake and take the wrong decision.
Please note that some decisions can be protested on site while other decisions cannot even be protested at all, such as the Decisions of the Ground Jury arising from the field of play (including but not limited to: (i) where the Decision is based on a factual observation of performance during a Competition or the awarding of marks for performance; (ii) whether an obstacle was knocked down).
Please see the relevant provisions on Protests/Appeals in the GRs (Article 161 and following).
It is also important to note that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has had to deal with several cases where an Official allegedly took the “wrong” decision and the CAS held that the participants are entitled to have Officials/referees make honest decisions, but not necessarily correct ones.
The CAS added that a decision can be reviewed where it is proven, for example, that a decision was made in bad faith, prejudice or corruption, or some other analogous situation, otherwise it cannot be reviewed (unless the Sport Rules specifically allow for a review).

6.   Are FEI Officials personally liable in the event they took a wrong decision?

As per the provisions in the FEI General Regulations, “All Officials acting at or in relation to an International Event are acting on behalf of the FEI and therefore are not liable financially or otherwise for any acts, omissions or Decisions undertaken in good faith in connection with their duties.”
It is important to note that the FEI Officials need to have acted in good faith. If the FEI Officials acted knowingly and in bad faith for example, they may be personally liable.

7.   Can representatives from FEI Headquarters and/or FEI Executives take any further decisions in case of wrongdoings at an FEI Event?

As mentioned above, while the outcome of the decision might not be overruled, the FEI Headquarters, through the FEI Legal Department, has the authority to directly sanction so-called “Minor Offences” under the Administrative Disciplinary Process (see Article 163 of the FEI GRs and see Q&A - Administrative Disciplinary Procedure).
In addition, the FEI Secretary General has the authority to remove any Competition and/or Event from the Calendar if justified circumstances relating to a Competition or the Event are established. The FEI Secretary General is also responsible for the annulment of ranking points for specific Competitions and/or Events under specific circumstances.

8.   Are FEI Officials subject to the FEI Officials’ Code of Conduct only during FEI Events?

The FEI Officials’ Code of Conduct states the following: “As an FEI Official I undertake to respect all FEI Rules and Regulations at all times, and in particular the FEI Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest Policy and the FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse.”
An FEI Official is a representative of the FEI, with rights and obligations, including compliance with the FEI Officials’ Code of Conduct. Some of the obligations are “only” applicable while the FEI Official is officiating (such as refraining to consume alcohol, not compete at the Event, etc), but many other obligations apply at all times. For example, complying with the FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse, the Safeguarding Policy Against Harassment and Abuse, manipulation of competitions, betting, or making public statements in the media or in social media that may cause harm to the FEI or to equestrian sport in general, applies at all times.
While of course everyone has the right to express their personal opinion, however they need to distinguish between opinions they express in their personal capacity and opinions expressed as an FEI Official, or regarding information obtained as an FEI Official. FEI Officials of course have the right to make constructive criticism of the FEI and/or to make comments, to raise concerns or flag issues, however we ask that this should be done directly to FEI Headquarters, not via the media.
Any FEI Official making public statements about information they have secured through their work as an FEI Official, such as concerning the inner workings of the FEI, its system, on matters or decisions that occurred during FEI Events, or criticism against representatives from FEI Headquarters or FEI Executives is generally not making such statements as a private individual, but rather in their capacity as an FEI Official. Such FEI Official is therefore also bound beyond the period of an FEI Event. For example it would be not be acceptable that 30 minutes following the FEI Official’s announcement of the results, an FEI Official could turn around and claim that they are no longer making statements as an FEI Official but rather as an individual.

9.   Why is it important to provide the FEI with accurate Official’s Report and in a timely manner?

The FEI relies on the FEI Officials to provide accurate reports on what occurred during an Event so that the FEI can make the necessary follow ups with the Organising Committees, National Federations and the participants. If there are issues at an FEI Event, such issues must be reported to the FEI in a timely fashion so that the matter can be investigated further and appropriate measures, decisions or sanctions taken.