DON’T WASTE THIS OPPORTUNITY

OPINION PIECE

The governance of equestrian sports in Australia is long overdue for major reform. The sport has been in decline for some time with national membership numbers dwindling from 26,000 in 2010 to a mere 16,500 in 2018 (this 2018 number also includes interschools students not previously included in the 2010 count).

Since establishing Stop Bullying in Equestrian Sports (SBIES) I have been inundated with evidence of widespread bullying and harassment in our sport. Equestrians bravely shared their personal stories with me, and to be honest it was beginning to become overwhelming. Given Equestrian Australia’s (EA) resistance to tackling the toxic culture in our sport – I had truly given up on the prospect that anything could be done to help the SBIES supporters, other than listening to their stories.

I was disillusioned, I no longer knew how to support our loyal SBIES followers, I knew couldn’t provide them with a sense of justice, I was broken by the burden of knowing nothing would be done. Bullying was merely a symptom of much greater structural issues with the management of our sport, unfortunately, no one in charge wanted to listen.

That was until I read the joint statement from the sate branches below. In reading this statement I finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time, the states were listening to the long-held concerns of their members by advocating for structural and governance reform.

Joint statement

That was all the states except one – Equestrian NSW (ENSW) is the only state branch not endorsing the much-needed reform of our sport.

This year I decided not to rejoin ENSW, I didn’t rejoin because of ENSW’s refusal to take a stand on the issue of bullying and harassment, poor service and their questionable interpretation of the Zoeitis sponsorship deal (given the class action with the company was already underway). It was a small protest, but one I felt I had to make on behalf of all the equestrians who had trusted SBIES with their stories.

Given SBIES has been prepared to speak openly about the issues facing the equestrian community we are often messaged by our supporters on a variety of issues above and beyond our anti-bullying platform.

The following information has been forwarded to us by several of our 4500 strong Facebook followers and we believe it is in the interest of our sport to share them with you.

The very health of our sport depends on it!

Below is a memo sent to the CEO of Sports Australia, Kate Palmer from all the State Branch Chairs (with the exception of NSW).

Sports Australia

In the real world, in regular business, when you lose the faith of the majority of the board, you take your leave, you move on. How can this refusal to accept the majority decision be ignored by the directors mentioned in this memo?

The email below was written to Ingar De Vos (the current President of the FEI, our sports international governing body) from Australias most senior sports administrator, John Coates, (the current President of the Australian Olympic Committee.)

For equestrians, particularly those in NSW this email is highly disturbing.

ENSW has recently announced that they are looking to change the organisations legal status from an association to a company – citing financial turnover as the need for this change.

What you may be unaware of is, this change would give ENSW a license to operate nationally. Effectively laying the groundwork for ENSW to set themselves up as an alternative national governing body, exactly as outlined in Mr. Coates’ email to the FEI below.

Why has this not been mentioned to the ENSW members? Given the resources that would be allocated to this national campaign, surely the members deserve to be informed about what they are truly voting for. What’s the real reason for the change?

FEI

The video below, Judy Fasher in her then position as EA Chair speaks candidly about the changes to the eventing discipline at the Sydney International Horse Trials Riders Forum in 2016.

 

“Change or be changed” – Judy Fasher – Sydney International Horse Trials Riders Forum 2016

If you have taken the time to watch the video in full  – it throws up a number of questions.

Firstly, for a casual observer, it appears somewhat hypocritical that Judy Fasher can pragmatically recognise the need for reforming equestrian sports at the international level but not seek to apply these same principles nationally in Australia.

The board members who were mentioned in the joint statement on November 21 have been identified by their peers as having actively resisted the changes needed to bring equestrian sports into this century.

I understand equestrians who make a living out of the sport don’t have the luxury of opting out of state branch membership like I have been able to. For these members Australia wide, I ask you to hold the ENSW executive accountable.

Why are they actively resisting much-need reform and modernisation of our sport?  Why are they voting against to changes that will benefit you and the future health of the sport?

ENSW are attempting to delay the Special General Meeting outlined in the joint statement above. This meeting would allow the sport to move on and evolve and lay the foundations for the revitalisation of equestrian sports in Australia.

Creating a separate national governing body lead by NSW will only result in the destruction of equestrian sports as we know it. It would put power back into the hands of the very people who created this mess in the first place…those who have been resisting change.

I urge you to support the administrators who are seeking to unify our sport – not those wanting to indulge themselves in empire building. We should be looking to support the administrators who are putting the health of our sport above their own personal interests.

Let’s face it the failures of the current leadership is a testament to why the SBIES Facebook support group exists with over 4500 followers and another 2200 on Instagram. It is because the old guard administrators are refusing to acknowledge the toxic culture of the sport that SBIES has given many of you a forum through which your voice can be heard

Let’s reward the states who are looking to tackle the challenges our sport is facing head-on.

If you want to see more transparency and the evolution of the management of our sport please email ENSW Chairman, Peter Dingwall on peterdingwall1951@gmail.com and tag SBIES in using stopbullyinginequestrian@gmail.com.

Use the subject line I SUPPORT EQUESTRIAN REFORM and let ENSW know that you will not tolerate them squandering this once in a lifetime opportunity to reform the governance of equestrian sports before the ENSW board meets on Monday November 26 2018.

For Olivia Caisley’s investigations in the Australian follow these links:

Equestrian rider’s fall becomes legal blame game 

Fight to keep once-golden equestrians stable

Lawyers enter equestrian spat

Hannah Brooks – Founder – Stop Bullying in Equestrian Sports

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