On March 12 the FEI announced a two-week extension of the shutdown of all international events in mainland Europe until 11 April 2021, meaning the World Cup showjumping and dressage finals due to take place in Gothenburg, Sweden from 31 March to 4 April are off. The shutdown had previously been due to end on 28 March.
An FEI spokesman said the two-week extension, which aims to minimise the further spread of the “very aggressive” strain of the virus, was unanimously approved at an emergency executive board meeting today and the extension applies to all FEI disciplines. “The decision is based on a detailed scientific risk assessment conducted by world-leading epidemiologist Dr Richard Newton and the FEI veterinary department,” said the spokesman. “The extended lockdown applies to all countries that have international scheduled events in the period to 11 April; Austria, Belgium, Spain, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. However, the FEI again strongly recommends that all national federations in mainland Europe cancel their national events in order to minimise horse movement.”
“The extension of the lockdown is difficult for everyone, and the loss of the World Cup finals for a second year is particularly devastating, especially for the qualified athletes and for our loyal top partner Longines,” said FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez. “We know how much work Tomas Torgersen and his incredible team in Gothenburg have put into organising the 2021 finals, which would have been part of the 400th birthday anniversary celebrations for the city, so this is a desperately bitter blow.”
Mr Torgersen said the cancellation was “incredibly sad” but the welfare of the horses “must always be put first”. “In recent weeks we have been in constant contact with FEI, the Swedish federation and responsible vets to follow developments, and after the decision came on Friday [today] afternoon everything has gone very fast,” he said. “We would like to thank all sponsors, partners and officials for their support in planning the Gothenburg Horse Show 2021.”
Ms Ibáñez said EHV cannot be eradicated as it is endemic in many countries, but said the equestrian community needs to work together to minimise the transmission of this particular strain, which has caused the death of 12 horses in Europe to date. “All of the original in-contact horses from Valencia, Vejer de la Frontera and Doha are already blocked on the FEI database, but the whole community needs to be on the alert and monitoring their horses. We strongly urge all European-based FEI athletes to avoid travel with their horses during this prolonged shutdown, as travel is a very clear risk factor,” she said.
“Sadly this additional lockdown is crucial to slow down the spread of the virus so that we can preserve the rest of the season, get our athletes and horses back competing safely and allow as long a period as possible for those aiming for Tokyo to earn their minimum eligibility requirements and confirmation results, and of course to prepare their horses for the Games.”
Ms Ibáñez said “nobody wants to see an outbreak like this ever again”, adding there will be a “comprehensive and fully transparent” investigation into every aspect of the outbreak and the handling of it. She added the findings will be published so “together with our community, we can all learn from this”.
The FEI spokesman said work on identifying the gene sequencing of this strain of the virus is under way and the FEI is continuing to monitor the evolution of the virus through the FEI veterinary epidemiology working group, formed last week. The group is made up of “world-leading” EHV specialists, the FEI’s veterinary director and the senior veterinary advisor. It also supported by the chair of the FEI veterinary committee. Reports and recommendations from the group will be published on a weekly basis.