Picture: 123RF/ MELORYS
Picture: 123RF/ MELORYS

In what is believed to be a first‚ the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has entered the realm of sports disputes‚ delivering a scathing assessment of the SA Equestrian Federation (SAEF).

The commission said a preliminary probe showed the federation’s actions against three woman members were flawed and “procedurally unfair”‚ that charges against two of them were “capricious” and that federation officials were allegedly conflicted.

Lize Smit‚ a vet‚ and Michelle Behrens and Naomi Müller‚ the suspended president and vice-president of the Western Cape Endurance Riding Association (WCERA)‚ approached the commission in September, saying the federation violated their rights to just administrative action.

The commission found what it called a prima facie violation of the complainants’ rights and last week sent a 26-page document to the department of sport‚ arts and culture asking it to investigate the allegations further.

The federation‚ responding to e-mailed questions from Business Day‚ said the commission had given “a one-sided portrayal of the disputes”, that it was not been asked for input and that it still needed to consider the document.

With SA sport fraught with disputes across many codes‚ it is believed that more disgruntled parties could take the commission route.

The SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) came in for criticism for failing to mediate after being approached by the trio who were locked in two separate disputes with the federation.

One of the alleged conflicts of interest listed by the commission was federation president Willem Edeling’s role as chair of Sascoc’s judicial body.

The federation disputed this‚ saying Edeling would recuse himself if an equestrian matter‚ with potential conflict of interest‚ appeared before the body.

Smit complained that the federation had failed to give her a hearing before requesting the international governing body‚ FEI‚ to remove her from its list of accredited vets.

Her alleged crime was advocating certain protocols for a competitive trail riding event that differed from the federation’s‚ even though the competition fell under a discipline not affiliated to the SAEF.

Smit later asked Sascoc to intervene‚ but the federation wanted its judicial committee to handle her appeal‚ a situation Smit felt was unworkable, given that the federation had already not given her a hearing let alone a fair one.

The Behrens and Müller saga started with them‚ on behalf of WCERA‚ lodging a grievance with the SAEF against the national endurance riding body Erasa‚ and ended up with them being suspended and then hit with allegedly vague charges.

When they were finally summoned to a hearing it was allegedly at three days’ notice‚ well inside the minimum 15-day period prescribed by the federation’s disciplinary code.

The commission also pointed out that the man appointed to chair their disciplinary‚ Richard du Toit‚ was a member of the same consultancy‚ Inmiso‚ as the federation’s judicial committee chair‚ Johann Raubenheimer.

This was another of the alleged conflicts of interest‚ but again the SAEF dismissed this.

“Inmiso is an association of independent professionals‚ most of whom run their own businesses or practices ... and refer opportunities to each other‚” the federation said in its response‚ which was not attributed to any office-bearer.

“From time to time‚ one or more may work on a project together. Neither ... Du Toit nor ... Raubenheimer are employed by Inmiso‚ neither are they partners in the same legal practice.”

The federation said in its letter to DSAC that there had been “no procedural fairness” in both matters.

“In respect of Behrens and Müller’s complaints‚ the grounds on which they were charged do not exist in the WCERA or SAEF [federation] constitution.”

The commission also said the federation had accused Behrens and Müller of lacking transparency when WCERA lodged its complaint against Erasa. “It is clear from the correspondence that the members of WCERA were fully aware. These charges appear to be capricious.”

The commission said the charges against Behrens and Müller‚ laid two months after they were suspended‚ were not concise “as required by SAEF’s [disciplinary protocols and procedures]”.

“In addition to administrative action taken by SAEF‚ it appears that Sascoc may have fettered its discretion‚ by not treating the complaints from Smit and Behrens as part of a dispute against SAEF to be mediated by Sascoc ... and possibly bringing resolution to these matters sooner.”

The commission said DSAC was best placed to address the complaints “most expeditiously”.

“The [commission] has therefore decided‚ in accordance with its complaints handling procedure‚ to directly refer these complaints to the department with continuous monitoring by the [commission]‚” said the commission’s Gauteng provincial manager, Buang Jones.

Department officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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