Following the shock news that Equestrian Australia had entered voluntary administration last week, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has warned the federation that its accreditation for next year’s postponed Tokyo Games could be on the chopping block if a list of demands aren’t met.
The ongoing saga began on June 3rd, when Sport Australia — the body responsible for allocating funding and support to the country’s various sporting federations — told Equestrian Australia that it would no longer fund its efforts because of its poor governance.
The Australian Institute of Sport has taken over the equestrian team’s high performance training programme, though it cannot nominate athletes for the Games – only a governing body can do so, which means that Equestrian Australia must leave administration by the deadline to nominate teams in June of 2021. Chief executive Matt Carroll of the AOC has said that Equestrian Australia’s membership will not be automatically reinstated unless it is re-accredited by the FEI and seen to make marked improvements in participation numbers, governance, and safety across all levels – a particularly pertinent request in the wake of 2019’s inquest into the deaths of young riders Olivia Inglis and Caitlin Fischer, which course design, the handling of accidents, and existing safety measures come up for review. Among the 31 recommendations passed down by the Coroner’s Court of New South Wales were rule changes to require a medical response team consisting of at least two medical providers on site at events, each with a baseline level of quantified competence to deal with accidents appropriately. Other recommendations included an increased focus on training volunteers to respond to accidents, further testing of safety measures included on courses, and a more robust reporting system for competitors to relay any concerns about the course.
Equestrian Australia’s foothold was further weakened by scandal surrounding 4* eventer Callum Buczak, who was charged in October with sexually assaulting another rider in February of 2019. In not banning Buczak from competition through the course of the investigation, EA was found to have breached the FEI’s safeguarding policy, and in doing so, was complicit in the further harassment of the victim by Buczak and his partner through March of 2020, for which the rider received further charges in May. Buczak was eventually barred from competition after intervention by the FEI.
Co-signed by Sport Australia’s Chief Executive Robert Dalton and Australian Institute of Sport Chief Executive Peter Conde, the June 3 letter reads: “In our view it is the fundamental structure of sport’s national governance that has proven itself manifestly unfit for purpose and now needs to be overhauled. No other sport funded by the Australian Sport Commission has experienced this level of board turmoil. It is self-evidently an unacceptable situation that does not serve the interests of the sport.”
Funding, the letter continues, will cease as a result of governance that had “fallen well short of acceptable standards.”
Now, the board – which has seen three chairs and three directors resign over the last 16 months – must take action to ensure that Australia’s equestrian teams are able to compete at next year’s Olympics. Former Olympian Ricky MacMillan is campaigning for election to the inspection committee for the administration process; her prior experience saw her take on the role as chair of Equestrian Australia in 2019, but she resigned after just six months, publicly renouncing the federation as being “taken over by a gang of four directors” and claiming that change in the sport under the current governance would be “unobtainable.” MacMillan’s appointment had been a popular one, with the former dressage rider immediately moving to appoint a national safety officer to work on implementing the 31 safety recommendations addressed at the inquest. Meredith Chapman, who filled this role, is set to release a formal response regarding the recommendations as Equestrian Australia now enters a battle for its spot at Tokyo.
“We will revisit our position on these matters when Equestrian Australia demonstrates to our satisfaction that it has developed, and will implement, a new governance model that achieves our core requirements of being structurally democratic, representative and stable,” says Sport Australia.