Top teams rebel over quarantine rule

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2006, 12:00am

Government considers revising isolation requirements

The government is looking at revising its quarantine requirements after some of the world's top riding countries threatened not to send their best horses for the 2008 Olympic events in Hong Kong.

The US and German equestrian federations have voiced their discontent at measures introduced by the SAR authorities relating to the import of horses for the games. The requirements could mean a horse spends almost a month away from home. Horse owners are reluctant to have their charges sidelined from other competitions for so long.

The issue is sensitive for Hong Kong because superior quarantine provisions were among the main factors used by Bocog (the Beijing Olympic Games Organising Committee) to persuade FEI, the sport's world governing body, to accept the relocation of the events (showjumping, dressage and eventing), which will take place at Sha Tin and Beas River. The FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) had been reluctant to accept the move.

'This is unacceptable because the FEI agreed to move the 2008 equestrian events to the SAR on the basis that Hong Kong is a comparatively safer place than Beijing with a low risk of virus infection for horses,' said an informed source, who has had a close working relationship with the FEI.

'But now it turns out that the regulations are so strict ... the horses will be required to spend such a long period in Hong Kong for quarantine arrangements. This is against the rationale of moving the competition to Hong Kong.

'At the FEI annual general assembly held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, individual countries had already voiced their discontent over the issue and some leading countries, including Germany and the United States, are considering not sending their best horses to Hong Kong if the government does not review the quarantine arrangements.'

According to the import protocol announced by the government's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department in March, competing horses will be imported via quarantine stables located at several designated transportation hubs around the world.

They will be required to undergo a period of seven days pre-export isolation in these overseas quarantine stables and 10 days of post-arrival isolation in Hong Kong. The quarantine period is already shorter than that for the Sydney Games in 2000, which had 14 days prior to the departure from their respective countries and another 14-day post-arrival period.

In announcing the regulations in March, the government stated: 'To ensure that exotic diseases of concern are not introduced by the imported equestrian horses to Hong Kong's equine population and to prevent the spread of diseases between competing horses in the events, all imported equestrian horses will be inspected and quarantined and should show no clinical signs of diseases, and undergo relevant tests and vaccinations before entering Hong Kong.'

However, the source close to the FEI said the exact period would be much longer because the horses would need to spend time travelling to Hong Kong and the 10 days of post-arrival isolation would not be counted until the last contingent of horses reached Hong Kong.

'According to the rules of the FEI, they won't allow more than 50 horses to arrive in Hong Kong each day and we are talking about 250 horses for the events. That means there will be at least another five days before all the horses arrive, and with a two-week competition period, the horses will need to spend around a month outside their home country,' added the source.

'There are usually a lot of equestrian events in Europe during summer and the horse owners may be reluctant to send their best horses to Hong Kong. If that's the case, the quality of the games in Hong Kong will be seriously affected.'

At the 2008 Olympic Games Equestrian Events Committee meeting held in Hong Kong last week, there were some heated exchanges on whether the quarantine period should be reduced. Pang Chung, honorary secretary general of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong and a member of the equestrian committee, said as far as he understood, the government had agreed to review the quarantine period because of the strong opposition.

Chaired by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, the committee will consider revising the 10-day post-arrival period.

Quarantine arrangements have often been a problem for Olympic equestrian events. In the most notorious case, the competition was moved to Sweden's capital Stockholm from Australia when the Melbourne Olympic Games organisers posted a six-month quarantine period in 1956.