Equestrianism: The British Equestrian Federation Independent Review Panel Report

By Laura Donnellan, Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Limerick, Ireland

The Independent Review Panel Report into the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) was published earlier this year with some interesting findings and recommendations for the future governance of the sport of Equestrianism in Great Britain. See https://www.bef.co.uk/repository/downloads/Governance/British_Equestrian_Federation_Independent_Review_Final_Report.pdf.

The Report was commissioned by the BEF following the resignation of its CEO, Clare Salmon, after just a year in the post. Prior to her taking up the role, Salmon’s appointment, which was unanimously approved by the BEF Board, had been questioned by some senior figures of member bodies of the BEF. She had previously held a number of high-profile positions, including the chief executive of ITV plc and the Group Brand Director of Royal London, the mutual life insurance and pensions’ company.

Salmon accused the member bodies of bullying, elitism, self-interest and corruption. She had endeavoured to introduce a number of changes so that the member bodies were in compliance with the new Code for Sports Governance. See https://www.sportengland.org/about-us/governance/a-code-for-sports-governance/.

What is evident from the Report is that relations had been strained for years between the BEF and the member bodies, of which there are nineteen, with fifteen members and four associates. The relationship was described as “toxic” with the dominance of the Olympic Disciplines (British Dressage, British Eventing and British Showjumping) and the British Horse Society, resulting in a number of the member bodies wanting to “retain their own sovereignty”. The role of the BEF and its position as an umbrella organisation for the member bodies was a source of contention as identified throughout the Report.

Whilst Salmon felt undermined from the start of her tenure as CEO, matters came to a head on 12 July 2017. The BEF Board and member bodies were scheduled to have a meeting that day, however, an earlier meeting was called and instead of Salmon chairing this meeting, the Olympic Disciplines, the British Horse Society and the Pony Club used one of their Chairs to preside over the meeting. At the pre-meeting, a vote of no confidence was tabled with calls for Salmon to be dismissed or placed on ‘gardening leave’.

In her resignation email, Salmon stated:

“Corruption, self-interest and bullying behaviour are a reality in part of equestrianism. I cannot and do not want to be part of that. Public money deserves a better fate.”

She questioned the conflict of interest involved in the BEF Council Chair also being the Director of UK Sport.

The Review and subsequent Report, whilst commissioned by the BEF, was administered by Sport Resolutions UK.

Sport Resolutions UK was tasked with appointing the three individuals to the independent review. In addition to this review, the BEF Board set up an Advisory Group consisting of three independent individuals with a background in sporting governance at the highest level.  The Advisory Group was entrusted with the task of advising the BEF Board on how best to implement the findings of the Report.

The Review Panel, over a two-months’ period, received 108 written submissions and held 43 interviews.

In vindicating Salmon, the Panel unanimously found that the relationship between the CEO of the BEF and certain member bodies had irretrievably broken down by July 2017; and the relationship between the BEF and member bodies was dysfunctional for a number of years. Whilst Salmon was of strong character and was a protagonist of change, she had been undermined by senior figures within the BEF and from certain member bodies.

Salmon was seen as an outsider to equestrianism; she had been left in an untenable position; and it was the objective opinion of the Panel that the conduct of certain member bodies amounted to bullying, elitism and self-interest.

On the evidence provided, the Panel concluded that the actions of the member bodies could not be said to constitute corruption.

The Report recommended that three key areas of concern should be closely considered by all relevant stakeholders, namely:

  1. Identification of the role and responsibilities of the BEF.
  2. Establishment of strong leadership within the BEF.
  3. Maintenance of good.

As to further development, the Report recommended the adoption of a new Code of Conduct in writing that mandates that any allegation of bullying, self-interest and elitism and other breaches of the BEF’s Constitution be “speedily” reported to UK Sport and Sport England.

The Report concluded:

“It is sincerely hoped that all stakeholders will openly buy into the recommendations above, which the Panel believes reflect no more than common-sense, fairness, good practice and good governance.”

Salmon herself had mixed emotions following the publication of the Report and expressed them as follows:

“I think I am both relieved and sad… I’m very relieved that the report has vindicated the concerns I raised about bullying, about elitism and about a toxic culture within the equestrian world. I am also very sad because I am a passionate advocate of horses as a force for good and I still believe in the vision that I articulated at the time, and that the BEF are now attempting to implement.”

The three Olympic Disciplines issued responses to the findings of the Report.

British Dressage stated that there were a number of unsubstantiated allegations mentioned in the Report which fell outside the ambit of the terms of reference; however, whilst it did:

“not necessarily recognise or agree with some of the published statements contained within the report, we fully support and endorse the recommendations made by the panel. We are looking forward to working with the BEF and member bodies on their implementation in full.”

British Showjumping welcomed the recommendations and affirmed that it was looking forward to working with the BEF on implementing them, adding:

“This, together with the work that was done last year on A Code for Sports Governance, will help to ensure a great future for our sport.”

Similarly, British Eventing welcomed the recommendations and looked forward to working with the new CEO in implementing the changes.

The threat of the suspension of public funding is perhaps the best incentive for the member bodies to adhere to the BEF Constitution. Whilst a casualty of the dysfunctional relationship of the BEF and its member bodies, Salmon leaves behind an important legacy.

The governance structures have changed. The Articles of Association were amended and approved in October 2017, a few months before the publication of the Report. The BEF Board has a more defined role and the BEF Council has ceded some power to the BEF.

It is to be hoped that, in the future, any disputes will be dealt with in a timely manner and recognise the confidentiality, dignity and respect of all the parties involved!

Laura Donnellan may be contacted by e-mail at ‘Laura.Donnellan@ul.ie’