Kentucky Derby - Doping in Equestrian Sports – 5 Questions for Prof. Wendt

In light of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, we talked with John Wendt, JD,  associate professor in the ethics and business law department about his research in equestrian sports. His article “The FEI and The Continuing Fight Against Doping in Equestrian Sport” was recently accepted for publication by the International Sports Law Journal.     

Q. Why is the fight against doping in equestrian sport significant?

A. Protecting the health and well-being of athletes is essential. The fight against doping in sport is based on the fundamental assumption that athletes want to compete on a fair and level playing field free of performance enhancing substances. The fight against doping goes to the very heart and soul of sport, that is, the integrity of sport.

Most recently I looked at issue of performance enhancing drugs in equestrian sport. Either because of confusion or deliberate actions, a number of horses have tested positive and have been disqualified with embarrassing results. Equestrian sport is also unique because it involves animal and human athletes working together as a team and there is recognition that horses are competitive athletes who deserve the greatest care and whose welfare is paramount.

Q. Why is this topic of interest to you?

A. I was incredibly fortunate to be a competitive athlete. My graduate training is in law and sports and I am also fortunate to serve on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The CAS is headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland and is often referred to as “sport’s supreme court.” It has only about 300 arbitrators from 87 countries, chosen for their specialist knowledge of arbitration and sports law.

Q. What are you hoping to accomplish with this research?

A. Education.  Education is essential in the fight against doping in sport.  It helps young athletes understand the dangers and consequences of using prohibited substances and form values.  It also insures that athletes understand their responsibilities and don’t accidently break the anti-doping rules or take unnecessary risks.

Q. Will this research impact your teaching at St. Thomas?

A. Teaching and research are complementary.  I am incredibly grateful for the support that I have been given by the department, college and university for both my teaching and research. It has given me the opportunity to do cross-disciplinary research not only with colleagues within the university but also throughout our profession.

Q. What was the most surprising finding from this project?

A. The need to protect the integrity and cleanliness of equestrian sport, the health and well-being of all the athletes, both equine and human should be paramount. Some athletes deliberately administered performance enhancing drugs or methods to their horses. Other violations were inadvertent. Many athletes competed in fear because of the confusing rules and regulations.

The Fédération Equestre Internationale is the international governing body for equestrian sport.  Under its current president, HRH Princess Haya Al Hussein, the FEI has made tremendous strides in anti-doping efforts in recent years. It has acknowledged that there was a problem in equestrian sport and has begun the fight against doping with a two-prong approach – testing and education. They have and continue to make dramatic moves.