British Equestrian: Chief executive Clare Salmon 'suffered bullying and elitism in role'

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Salmon says she experienced 'distressing' intimidation

The ex-chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) was the victim of bullying and elitism while in the role, an investigation has found.

Clare Salmon raised "serious concerns" over "culture and governance" at the BEF in her resignation letter in July.

An independent investigation was then launched by the BEF.

"The report has vindicated the concerns I raised about bullying, about elitism and about a toxic culture within the equestrian world," she said.

"The intimidation that I experienced was very distressing. I am a strong character, as the report observes, but certainly being treated in this way, I was set up to fail.

"I was systematically prevented from implementing the vision that I set out, to democratise horse sport in the UK.

"That was very, very distressing. I was trolled online at various points during this process and I can only say that without the support of my husband and my daughter, I'm not sure where that would have finished."

Referring to the accusations of elitism she said: "At one of the board meetings that I attended with one of my colleagues, we said that we wanted to open up horse sport to a wider audience and we were told: 'But just anybody might turn up, think who might turn up, how terrible might that be' - people who were beyond the sort of tweedocracy of traditional horse sport."

The BEF oversees 15 member bodies (MBs), including those responsible for Olympic sports showjumping, dressage and eventing.

It is the latest governing body to face claims over its sport's culture, after reviews at British Cycling,British Swimming and British Bobsleigh.

Salmon had also accused the BEF of corruption but those allegations were not found proven.

The Sport Resolutions UK investigation, chaired by lawyer John Mehrzad, concluded that "certain actions can, in the panel's opinion, be objectively viewed as bullying, elitist and arising from self-interest but not corruption".

The report makes recommendations that centre on three key areas: the identification of the role and responsibilities of the BEF; the establishment of strong leadership within the BEF; and the maintenance of good governance.

It also recommends that the BEF adopts a code of conduct that all MBs and the BEF are required to sign up to as a condition of public funding. Also that "any disciplinary, grievance or whistle-blowing type complaints and private meetings must be dealt with confidentially".

BEF interim chair Ed Warner said: "We are grateful for the work of the panel and accept, in full, the recommendations arising from its independent review, which identified difficulties in relationships within the BEF.

"It is now a priority for the BEF, which is under the leadership of both a new board of directors and executive management, to learn lessons from the past and ensure appropriate practices in future."

'Relieved and sad'

Speaking to BBC Sport, Salmon said she felt vindicated by the findings of the report.

"I think I am both relieved and sad," she said.

"I'm very relieved that the report has vindicated the concerns I raised about bullying, about elitism and about a toxic culture within the equestrian world. I am also very sad because I am a passionate advocate of horses as a force for good and I still believe in the vision that I articulated at the time, and that the BEF are now attempting to implement.

"We've ended up where we are today because about 18 months ago I accepted a job as chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation.

"I had a vision and a passion for democratising equestrianism, for growing it, for modernising it and also for putting it on a firm financial footing. I was the unanimous choice of the board and I was forced out by a systematic process of bullying, elitism, intimidation and the review that has come out today has validated that.

"I grew up in south London, I learned to ride by mucking out stables when I was seven or eight years old in exchange for being allowed to sit on a horse and I didn't fit with the prevailing culture in some of those disciplines.

"I have a passionate interest in horses as a force for good. The vision I set out with at the BEF was to try and make that a reality for a much wider range of people and I'd still like to see that happen and I still think it's possible."

A dysfunctional relationship

Following an investigative process that involved the receipt of 108 written contributions and the holding of 43 interviews, the report sheds a light on what it calls a "dysfunctional relationship" between the BEF and its member bodies.

The review was told by contributors that the power-struggle between the BEF and MBs had "been going on for decades" and was "almost a turf war", while the report states that "various sources referred to the atmosphere created by the long-standing conflict between the BEF and the MBs as 'toxic'".

One section of the report details how that certain MBs were "very concerned, even hostile" towards its publication since in their view "equestrianism's 'dirty-washing' should not be made public".

It also highlighted allegations of a "climate of fear" at British Dressage and a "culture of bullying" within British Showjumping, though added that they were not part of the enquiry or its findings in any way.

'Equestrian sport is like a private club'

Salmon was appointed chief executive in 2016, having previously worked as a director at insurance company Royal London.

The report states that while some within the sport viewed that as a "positive move" that "was aiming to bring equestrianism to a wide audience and to engage with more peripheral areas of the sport" and "a refreshing change [to a] snobbish, old boys' club" of a "military culture", others viewed her as "an outsider".

"There's a small cabal of people within the leadership of the Olympic disciplines, and the report draws attention to this, for whom equestrian sport is almost like a private club," Salmon said.

"The review draws attention, for example, within British Dressage to a small elite team, basically a cabal of people who control the sport, and it also draws attention to the fact that the sport is prohibitively expensive for the majority of people who might be interested in taking part. And that's what I mean by elitism.

"So there were people for whom opening up horse sport to a wider audience was actually anathema, because they would rather break up the party."

Salmon also warned that funding for equestrian sports, already reduced since the Rio Games, should be further reassessed if the recommendations of the report are not implemented.

"I think when public money is at stake, and in this case there's about £20m of National Lottery funding at stake, there is a higher standard, there is a duty of care, to spend that money properly," she said.

"In terms of showjumping, dressage and eventing, I think it's key that there is a dramatic improvement in the leadership of those organizations if UK Sport is to continue supporting them. Public money needs to follow public standards of behaviour."

That warning was echoed by the report itself, which stated: "Funding is conditional on appropriate governance and cultural behaviours. In that regard, UK Sport and Sport England are encouraged to remind all MBs that if they try to usurp the authority of the BEF then their funding may be suspended.

"Certain behaviours which manifested themselves at times during the relevant period were not appropriate for a publicly-funded sport."

What do the funding bodies say?

In a joint statement, UK Sport and Sport England said they "welcome" the review and recommendations.

"All sports - and especially those in receipt of public funding - must demonstrate that they are run to the highest standards of governance, led by skilled and diverse boards. Sports that are unable to demonstrate these standards will not receive funding in the future," it read.

"The review is clear that these standards and behaviours have not been met in the past across equestrian sport.

"While we recognise that structural and leadership changes have recently been made, ongoing funding will be dependent on the BEF and its Member Bodies acting to implement the recommendations of this review. We will keep this under close review."