03 June 2010

Back To Disqualification For Flogging By Blogging

Returning to the Disqualification for Flogging by Blogging fiasco, USEF has made a move out in front in the Let's See Who Is Toughest On Crime race, even though thinking members of the public would expect that they have a faster hearing process than does the FEI. (the FEI also does not have a formal plea bargain option.)

Accepting a plea deal, the USEF suspended Morrissey for three months and fined him $3000 way back on May 6, as reported today by the intrepid Karen Robinson. He might have had a shitty lawyer unless someone can cite some similar precedents because that seems a bit much at first glance, for a plea. Especially when you consider he was already (air quotes) "banned from the selection trials" by USEF (LOL) AND "disqualified" by the FEI (LOL). What jokesters they are at the USEFEI! And of course the FEI still has to have its way with him. Plus he starred on YouTube. That is not fun.

Boy they sure did keep that proceeding quiet, which is surprising because we were expecting more of a PR show. Points to USEF for NOT putting on a big show on this, even if it's a little curious that they didn't even put out a news release. We suspect that is less about them wanting to give the guy a break and more about them not wanting to invite further commentary on the ethical issues surrounding the botched cover up. But we're happy to go there anyway, since no one else will.

The punishment was for something vague along the lines of violating their code of conduct, which can mean simply bringing the sport into disrepute or whatever (how dare he end up on YouTube!), but apparently not for violating their whip/abuse rule, which unlike the FEI's is only subjectively worded (no "three strikes" clause):
MICHAEL MORRISSEY violated Chapter 7, GR702.1d in that he was observed excessively striking, with a crop, the horse Crelido, during Class 101, the USEF WEG Selection Trial #2. This conduct constitutes a breach of the USEF Code of Conduct.
For anyone interested in navigating all that USEF mess, the articles relevant to whip usage in jumping are GR803 and GR839.4a, and JP102.1b and JP111.2, but he wasn't found to have violated those. The only article he was actually found to have violated is as follows:
GR702 Violations.
1. A violation is any act prejudicial to the best interests of the Federation, including but not limited to the following:
d. Acting or inciting or permitting any other to act in a manner contrary to the rules of the Federation, or in a manner deemed improper, unethical, dishonest, unsportsmanlike or intemperate, or prejudicial to the best interests of the sport and the Federation.
The "cruelty to a horse" violation is 702.1f, so they did NOT find for cruelty. This does probably make some sense given that FEI rules supersede making this case fairly legally complex in terms of jurisdiction, in addition to the plea factor. And there is likely some coordinated USEF-FEI "strategery" going on here. But more importantly we think this whole thing might possibly be unprecedented for USEF to take action under their rules against a rider for conduct in an FEI event rather than acting after an FEI ruling. When has that ever happened? Thinking members of the public also know that YouTube surely had something to do with that. Did anyone notice that the video only hit YouTube AFTER the botched cover up prompted by Ms. Robinson's blog? The Carrot sure did. And we doubt that was a coincidence. How nice for young Mr. Morrissey.

The Carrot had started a lengthy diatribe about this back in April entitled Sports Federations Behaving Badly, because the whole thing had become terribly unfunny and the rider was paying a price way beyond the "crime" which should have been handled at the show. It was looking like they were going to throw the book at him to make themselves look good for the public, rather than giving only the sanction he would have gotten at the show had people done their jobs, which is what was fair to the rider.  And now we see that has happened, you don't get a three month ban at a show, because the judges don't have the authority to ban you, only to DQ you and give a small fine, which would have been appropriate.

But then Geneva happened and no one cared about the previous debacle. (slow down, people!). And why would anyone (in the USA anyway) want to talk about a U.S. rider getting the MAJOR FEI "perk" of a USEFEI cover up when that doesn't fit with cries of "anti-Americanism" in Geneva?  A joint cover up for an American VIP, that's pretty pro-America, is it not?  And what about that little thing called the progressive list? If they hadn't bungled the cover up so badly by taking the public for fools with their fake disqualification and fake Trials ban story, he could have gotten off very lightly. That was just about the worst lie we'd ever heard. (until the one we heard recently about a man who claimed to have kicked a woman out of his hotel room because she was "too drunk." Really? Are you sure that's what actually happened?)

Morrissey could have gotten an administrative warning from both orgs and nothing else would have ever happened to him as long as they handled it in an honest way and if the FEI said (truthfully) they could not revisit the GJ's decision, explained why to the public which needs to be helped to understand the "why" of it, that could have been accepted. It might have even been unprecedented for them to do that without a referral from the event officials, which could also be explained to the public. If both had the balls to stand up to what was at that time a very small uproar (remember, it wasn't on YouTube yet and the other media were not touching it), and if they had accompanied such a statement (assuming it was honest) with acknowledgment of the larger issue of officials not doing their jobs, and sincere intent to address that issue both specific to this case and in general, this member of the spectating public would have had no problem with it.

And don't forget that three of the four judges involved, including the GJ pres, were USEF judges as well even if they were officially acting on behalf of the FEI in this instance. Their conflict in this case obviously came far more from their affiliation with the USEF/OC, than the FEI. The FEI did not care who Michael Morrissey is. But USEF most definitely did, big time, and nowhere more so than in Wellington (and we know those asshats were involved in this too, this was definitely a tripartite operation. The Carrot called it the Axis of Bullshit, which was being charitable.) Both orgs could have acknowledged there was an issue there, and decided to address it and invited stakeholder and media comment on what we all know is a huge problem that has nothing specifically to do with Michael Morrissey. It was a problem  before he was even born. They both could have gone about this in a way that addressed the real problem without having one rider take the fall for something much bigger than what he did at this one event.

Ironically, disqualification alone would probably have been the appropriate punishment in terms of precedent, there would have likely been no fine much less a ban (which would have required a tribunal referral), and no one would have had any problem with it because no one would have ever heard about it. Helena Lundbäck got a 3000 CHF fine but no suspension for drawing blood at Dublin in 2006. We can't come up with another precedent for an FEI Tribunal case on whip usage.  But instead two orgs lied to cover for both Morrissey and the judges, and said that disciplinary actions were taken against him that could not possibly have happened. BAD IDEA. Hello, YouTube.

Interestingly, USEF apparently did not find Morrissey to have violated the same code of conduct when his whip use on the same horse reportedly met with crowd disapproval at CSIO Hickstead in 2008.  If you're competing abroad on USEF's dime, you're signing the same code of conduct as for their selection trials. Of course we don't have a blow count on that one but I think it's safe to say if the crowd is reacting, they know the rule and/or what they normally see and you must be pretty far past any grey area. But that wasn't on YouTube; there was no outcry despite those officials apparently not doing their job either. (and they had no local pressure as an excuse.) By contrast, the USEF  (actually their predecessor AHSA) did additionally go after McLain Ward for violating their code of conduct at Aachen, even though the FEI had already dealt with him and gave him a major ban and major fine. AHSA added another $10,000 in fines (!) to the FEI's and suspended him concurrently. But that was a huge international incident that badly embarrassed the USA. No YouTube then (lucky them), but they still needed to show they were super tough on crime. Interesting pattern here.

Further to the subject of conspicuous choice of battles, you'll notice that not only did USEF not take any action against Amy Tryon but aggressively defended her to the FEI, and she got a slap on the wrist.  That was a USEF national championship that was also FEI recognized, so a similar case to Morrissey's in terms of jurisdictional issues. USEF Eventing rules on abuse are patterned after the FEI's, so riding a lame horse is objectively a no-no. But no one had to put on a big retroactive PR show in that case, to show they're tough on crime, because . . . the officials did their job at the show, and there was no botched cover up that both orgs were being called out on. There was tons of outrage, but the USEF was not the one taking heat. Even the FEI wasn't really taking heat, per se, because  it was being taken care of in the proper way.  The officials took action, decided it was a severe enough case to warrant referral to the FEI Tribunal, they referred it, the system worked as intended. The FEI then took heat for the light sanction. The USEF took heat for their role in that, but they got what they wanted for their team rider so they didn't care. She did not appeal so likely waived her right to appeal in exchange for the lighter ban. USEF would never have done all that for a non-team rider, no way. Morrissey, despite being enough of a VIP to warrant the initial cover up, became expendable to USEF once the PR cost became too great, and that is the only reason he had an extra USEF hearing, rather than just an FEI one as per normal. There's a whole lotta transparency going on here, folks. USEF wanted in on THIS particular action, in a big way.  We didn't just fall off the turnip truck.

It's not done yet, there is still the FEI process for Morrissey, and word on the street back in April was that a certain USEF Someone was going to get hung for leading the bungled cover up. So if a certain person were to eg, lose his license or some other lofty title/function, over this fiasco that we are sure someone higher up in BOTH orgs HAD to authorize, then the Carrot is going to have a major problem with that. If you think the Carrot went off on April 12, well, you really haven't seen anything yet. Regardless of who came up with the idiotic cover up, whoever is the highest up in each org (whether staff or politician) that allowed those mutual lies to go out on behalf of both, THAT is who should be taking the fall. We won't hold our breath on that.

Sports Federations Behaving Badly.

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