Stop Bullying in Equestrian Sports (SBIES) was founded with the mission of providing much-needed support for equestrians who have been the victims of bullying and harassment.
What a ride it has been (excuse the pun) as countless equestrians have taken the SBIES ‘pledge’, participated in the SBIES survey and shared their painful stories.
As the movement evolved, we truly believed that the equestrian governing bodies would listen to the groundswell. The stories we had gathered were so shocking, and the statistics on bullying so alarming, that we were sure the peak sporting body, Equestrian Australia, would sit up and take action. They had an existing suite of Member Protection Policies to provide for the members’ safety and mental health, they just needed to ensure they were enforced.
HOW NAÏVE WE WERE!
At the time, we were completely unaware that the equestrian administrators in Australia had a poor reputation when it came to listening to member concerns OR handling complaints with due diligence OR making the necessary reforms to be in line with modern practice.
Here is an example of this resistance to internal reform – please take a second to click through to the 2015 EQUESTRIAN GOVERNANCE REVIEW.
This review was conducted by Equestrian Australia itself by a hand-selected committee, including current national Chairperson, Judy Fasher, but after completion, it pretty much went nowhere. Three years later, only one of the three recommendations and two longer-term ‘option’ recommendations have been formally adopted (the one about establishing an external nominations committee, which ended up being highly controversial when put into place). In fact, since this review was released, the EA network has seen a revolving door of board members and executives at both the national and state level – bar a few rusted-ons in the Eastern states.
Perhaps what is most concerning is the governance review’s reference to a previous review in 2003, which clearly identified the need for the modernisation of the sport. You read right. Equestrian administrators have been aware for a decade and half of the need to significantly reform the governance of the sport yet have consistently failed to adopt a reform agenda.
The case for an independent inquiry into the peak equestrian body’s governance is now overwhelming. Since starting the SBIES Facebook page late last year, there have been the following controversies:
- The abandoned EA sponsorship deal with Zoetis.
- All state branches (with the exception of ENSW) issuing a statement of’ no confidence’ in the EA board.
- Data-breach of member data by ESA, including children’s data
- Investigations into bullying of junior members by ESA staff members.
- A bungled WEG selection process for the Australian Dressage team.
- Edwina Tops-Alexander withdrawing from the Australian WEG selection, despite having five eligible horses and competing heavily in Europe.
- An arguably unconstitutional attempt to overthrow the current ESA board.
All of this…in only a matter of months….
SBIES has evolved into an equestrian social media influencer and we are consistently messaged with horrific stories of administration infighting, self-interest and compromised outcomes for Australia’s equestrians and their horses.
When will our sports administrators have the gumption to say: “Enough is enough” and be prepared to address member concerns and radically reform the management of our sport?
It’s highly concerning to see that EA have not found a replacement to the outgoing Chief Executive Officer, Paula Ward. It appears that EA have thwarted the opportunity to select a candidate committed to modernising the sport. Instead, the existing ENSW CEO, Bruce Farrar, has been appointed as an Interim EA CEO (please refer to the EA STATEMENT), with some believing things will draw out until he gets the top job himself.
Oddly enough, this controversial move had been predicted by pundits a while ago on social media as a backdoor tactic for the establishment to stealthily install an unpopular candidate into the role.
Is it a coincidence that ENSW was the only state not to come out and criticise the EA board, and the only state not calling for reform? Perhaps the ENSW CEO was rewarded for his loyalty rather than performance? Sigh.
In fact, the ENSW CEO’S performance has previously proved so unpopular with the ENSW branch members, that twice the ENSW Chair has had to publicly defend him (Statement November 13 2015, Statement April 19 2018).
Here’s another fact, the founder of the SBIES movement started this anti-bullying support group after being left traumatised from the poor handling of a MPP formal complaint. That’s right, you wouldn’t even be here reading this if ENSW had been better committed to enforcing disciplinary action in line with EA’s MPP. Therefore, the NSW CEO’s supposed ‘temporary ‘appointment does not bode well for the objectives of the SBIES movement. We worry that the toxic culture of bullying in our sport will undoubtedly continue.
Another matter of concern regarding this ‘temporary’ appointment is that ENSW (unlike ESA) has not withdrawn from the controversial SportsPass agreement, a commercial arrangement that saw members’ data being unconstitutionally shared with an external third-party in South Australia.
In an email to its members, the ENSW CEO asserted that “ENSW will not receive any benefit from this partnership”- prompting members to ask why would the organisation enter into a commercial arrangement that allows their spending patterns to be tracked by an external party (which is an extremely valuable commodity), for no benefit? (The Advertiser June 27 2018). Something doesn’t seem right.
This ‘temporary’ EA CEO appointment with the ENSW CEO suggests nobody else rushed to put their hand up for the job. And why would they? The ‘federation’ governance system of Equestrian Australia is unworkable in the modern context and makes it a hiding to nowhere for any executive. This outdated structure cannot provide a foundation for the sport to prosper, primarily because under this structure there is no capacity for reform from within.
What happens if we fail to say something or do something about this worrying state of affairs?
The implications of EA failing to reform will be substantial. If, as is sadly predicted, equestrian sports are removed from the Olympics after the LA Games in 10 years’ time, EA will lose the majority of its funding through the High-Performance program. Given that the administrators have failed to act on a 2003 governance review, and shelved the next review in 2015, there is little hope that they will execute an action plan to prepare equestrian sports for this major transition.
With dwindling membership numbers within the state branches, it’s also unlikely they will able to provide for the future prosperity of the sport.
So, we could say nothing, sure, but the future of our sport is at stake and we don’t want our fabulous sport with its rich heritage and international reputation to be nothing!