Olympic champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl was denied her planned competition comeback after having her second child owing to the FEI’s “perception of the regulations on maternity leave”.
The world number one is calling for a change to the rules – and the FEI has stated it will review them.
The current rules freeze 50% of a rider’s world ranking point while they are away from competition for maternity leave or medical reasons. But the FEI is saying that for the points freeze to apply, that this break has to be for a minimum of six months – this, and differing interpretations of the rules, are the crux of the dispute here.
Jessica, who took individual and team gold at the Tokyo Games with TSF Dalera BB last summer, followed by three gold medals at the 2021 European Championships, has been told she is not allowed to compete at Ludwigsburg CDI this week (22 to 25 September).
The German rider welcomed a baby girl with her husband Max von Bredow on 11 August. Their daughter, Ella Marie, was born the morning after Jessica watched her brother, Benjamin, finish fourth in the grand prix freestyle World Championships, from the delivery room at the hospital.
Jessica said she was looking forward to her comeback after her baby break, but her participation “was not approved”.
“The FEI denied me permission to start – because of its perception of the regulations on maternity leave,” she said.
“Our interpretation of the regulation is that if female athletes apply for maternity leave, the FEI must grant at least six months.
“But it is not a rule that an athlete must take a six-month break. So the female athletes should be allowed to end their maternity leave earlier [and in] the month they first restart, receive the existing points from the previous payment period.”
She added that when she was pregnant, she applied for maternity leave with the FEI.
She said according to the FEI, she is not allowed to return to competition during that time, adding that she has consulted with the German federation and “we do not share the FEI’s point of view”.
Jessica said that she would have assumed she would have lost the relevant frozen ranking points with her competition return in Ludwigsburg, but now she is “not even allowed to start”.
“I find it simply unfair and cannot understand the decision given the wording of the FEI regulation,” she said.
FEI maternity leave rules: how the disciplines compare
The FEI’s rules maternity leave rules are discipline specific – where they exist at all.
In the disciplines they do exist – dressage, showjumping and driving – the rules cover both maternity and periods of leave for medical conditions.
Showjumping was the first discipline to incorporate provision for freezing 50% of ranking points, followed by dressage in 2019.
There is no provision for maternity leave in eventing or para dressage. The FEI told H&H in 2019 that this was owing to risk management reasons in eventing, as “many of the top level international events base their entry procedure on the rankings”.
Ranking points are separate to minimum eligibility requirements. Both may influence how an event accepts entries, for example, the Badminton entries ballot (horses’ points at four- and five-star in the last two years – with slightly tweaked criteria just for 2022) and CSI show invitations.
A number of top event riders have historically dropped significantly down the monthly updated world rankings, in some cases hundreds of places, because of time away from competition to have a baby.
In dressage, the FEI rules state that riders will retain 50% of the world rankings points earned from the corresponding months of the preceding year until they restart competing internationally.
“The minimum length of time for which an athlete may be granted a maternity/medical leave is six months; if the maternity/medical leave lasts less than six months, no points will be retained from the corresponding month of the preceding year,” it states.
“The maximum length of time an athlete may benefit from a maternity/medical leave of absence at one time is 12 months. During the period in which an athlete is on maternity/medical leave, they may not compete in international or national competitions; the FEI will inform the athlete’s national federation accordingly. The athlete concerned must inform the FEI when they resume international participation.”
‘The FEI will undertake a review’
Jessica added that her interpretation of the rules was that by deliberately waiving the calculation of the world ranking points, she could re-start.
She said she is “very sad not to be allowed” to compete at Ludwigsburg.
“I hope for the future (for my colleagues) that the rules will be adjusted,” she said.
In a comment under her original Instagram post, Jessica pointed out that had she not opted for maternity leave, she would have received no freeze on points at all – even in the event of a longer absence from competition owing to a difficult birth, c-section or similar.
“You don’t know beforehand how the birth will go,” she said.
An FEI spokesman stated the organisation has been “made aware” of Jessica’s social media posts on this issue.
“While we fully understand her desire to compete, Ms von Bredow-Werndl clearly expressed her decision to avail of the maternity leave provisions set out in article 2.2 of the FEI dressage world ranking list rules in April 2022 and it was explained to Ms von Bredow-Werndl at the time that the minimum period of the maternity leave would be six months,” said the spokesman.
“The FEI also informed the German equestrian federation at the time that, further to Ms von Bredow-Werndl’s decision, a note had been added to her profile confirming that she would not be competing during the six-month period of her maternity leave.
“Once an athlete has chosen to apply for medical/maternity leave, and has benefited from the provision allowing for the retention of 50% of the ranking points from the corresponding six months of the previous year, it is not possible for the athlete to subsequently change their mind.”
The spokesman said that the procedures currently in place are “to protect the fairness and integrity of the sport. Any recalculation of the dressage rankings could have a significant impact on other athletes”.
“The FEI will undertake a review of the medical/maternity leave rules for the future, and will liaise with the riders’ clubs (IJRC, IDRC) [International Jumping Riders Club and International Dressage Riders Club] and the wider equestrian stakeholder groups,” said the spokesman.
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