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Afficionados of Sherlock Holmes will recall "The Adventure of Silver Blaze", a tale of horse nobbling and dark deeds amidst the turf fanciers of late Victorian England. "Silver Blaze" (incidentally the only Holmes story to feature a deerstalker cap, and that only in one brief reference and an accompanying illustration) is a story in which the question of custody of the horse is all important, and is best known for the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. The curious incident is that the dog did nothing (it had been doped, using curried mutton - not a frequently encountered doping agent in modern sporting life), and nothing is also what the rider of the horse did in Turner v British Equestrian Federation (SR/0000120209, 1 August 2014). Nothing wrong, that is.

In this case a show jumper, after completing an event in which she had ridden a “catch ride” on a horse owned by someone else, handed the horse to its owner, who then refused to allow the horse to be subjected to random drugs testing. Despite the fact that the default in compliance with anti-doping rules here was that of the owner and not that of the rider, both faced disciplinary proceedings. After a disciplinary hearing the rider was disqualified from competition for one year for refusing or failing without compelling justification to submit to sample collection. The owner was also fined and banned for a year.

The rider’s appeal was allowed by the Anti-Doping Tribunal. The relevant BEF anti-doping rule was article 2.3, which provided:-

“2.3 Refusing, or failing without compelling justification, to submit to Sample collection after Notification, or to comply with all sampling procedure requirements including signing the sampling form, or otherwise evading Sample collection.”

The Tribunal said:-

“ In short, we ask ourselves this simple question, as Article 2.3 requires. Did the Appellant, on her own account, either refuse to submit to sample collection after notification or fail to submit to sample collection or fail to comply with the sampling procedure requirements? And the answer is that she did not. Mr Nunn [the owner] did. Only if she is directly and inevitably responsible for Mr Nunn’s misdeeds can she be liable under this Rule. The Rule does not say that nor do we accept that any such meaning must be implied to make sense of it."

The case provides an object lesson in the need for rules to be clearly and consistently drafted if they are intended to impose liability on an individual for the acts or omissions of another person or persons.

To most, the outcome in this case this will seem a just one. Holding the rider responsible for the refusal by the owner to allow testing would be harsh, particularly as the rider could face severe sanctions if held to be so responsible.

Some may say that the ruling leaves open the possibility of an abuse of the rules by an unscrupulous owner and rider working in collusion to defeat testing for banned substances (not, I stress, the rider in this case) . If that is so then the answer must be for the rules to be tightened so as to make it absolutely clear that the rider remains responsible throughout the relevant cycle of performance and testing.

Taking that course, however, would place a heavy and arguably undue burden on those whose job it is to ride horses, not to train or look after them.

(Adam Lewis QC represented the Appellant in the case)

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