ABU DHABI/DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) government advisory council passed a draft law against horse doping on Tuesday, aiming to clear a reputation tarnished by doping scandals in flat and endurance races.
The bill, which covers all equestrian disciplines from racing to polo, outlines financial penalties from 20,000 to 500,000 dirhams (£3,183-£80,215) for various doping offences.
A supervisory authority can also ban individuals from the sport for three years. In case of repeated offences a lifetime ban is an option.
“This is the first legislation on the level of law. Before there were just some regulations governing it,” Rashid al-Shuraiki, the head of a Federal National Council (FNC) committee in charge of drafting the bill, told Reuters.
“We tried ... to have everything in it and not leave any loopholes, to give confidence to all participants in races in the UAE and to the UAE when it participates in races abroad,” he said on the sidelines of a six-hour discussion about the draft.
Angered by doping in his Godolphin stables last year, UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum initiated last May a decree that made the import, sale, purchase or use of anabolic steroids in horse sports a criminal offence under the UAE penal laws.
Godolphin’s reputation suffered a serious blow when the British Horseracing Authority banned former trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni for administering anabolic steroids to horses at his Moulton Paddock stables in Newmarket.
U.K. border authorities last year also seized a shipment of unlicensed veterinary goods from a Dubai government jet.
The incidents caused serious embarrassment to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed, Britain’s leading racehorse owner and the world champion in endurance, who closed Zarooni’s stables with around 200 horses and ordered internal investigation.
Zarooni won the 2012 Dubai World Cup - the world’s richest horse race - for Godolphin with Monterosso, as well as English Classics the St Leger and 1,000 Guineas.
In September, Sheikh Mohammed’s wife Princess Haya, who may run for re-election as a president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), appointed former London police chief Lord Stevens to oversee an internal inquiry into the sheikh’s global equine interests.
Lord Stevens’s report cleared Sheikh Mohammed of any wrongdoing and concluded that Zarooni had acted alone.
In a document to the 40-member FNC explaining reasons behind drafting the law, the committee noted “a lack of consistency in test results from laboratories” which led to credibility doubts, adding international certification would be required.
The government is expected to send the draft to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan for signing into law.
The draft law also forbids trading in banned substances and the purchase of such a substance is only allowed with special permission from the government. Controlled substances used for treating horses for ailments do not require such a permission but they are banned during the competition season.
The use of a number of mechanical and electrical devices used to massage horse muscles will also be banned, the FNC voted despite objections by a government minister that their use cannot be tested.
Endurance racing in the UAE, where both horses and riders often battle gruelling heat and desert dust in races as long as 160 km (99 miles) in one day, has been also mired in doping and horse welfare controversy.
The draft spelled out several doping cases where UAE riders were suspended as a result over the last two years. The FEI revised the discipline’s rules earlier this month, saying its task force is looking at ways that new technology can be used to ensure horse welfare and provide a level playing field globally.
Writing by Martin Dokoupil; Editing by Pritha Sarkar