If negotiations fail with German Equestrian Federation, Daniel Deusser envisions riding for Belgium

Germany or Belgium for Deusser?
Credit : Scoopdyga

Tuesday 12 February - 10h45 | Sébastien Roullier

If negotiations fail with German Equestrian Federation, Daniel Deusser envisions riding for Belgium

Like his compatriot Christian Ahlmann, World No.5 Daniel Deusser has not worn the red jacket of the German national team – the ‘Mannschaft’ – since the Olympic Games in Rio in August, 2016. The reason? The two elite riders are unhappy about the anti-doping measures in a contract first imposed by the German Equestrian Federation (NF) in 2017 between the NF and the country’s athletes, which the two champions consider too restrictive. And in a surprise announcement this weekend, the former World No.1 – who is based at the stables of Belgian entrepreneur Stephan Conter since 2012 and married to Belgian Caroline Wauters – told GRANDPRIX that he plans to compete for Belgium if no agreement is reached with the Federation within the next few weeks.

On the occasion of the press conference after the Longines FEI World Cup Grand Prix in Bordeaux, France which he won last Saturday evening with Tobago Z, Daniel Deusser agreed to speak with GRANDPRIX about his future in the sport and his dispute in recent years with the German national equestrian federation. The conflict dates back to 2017 and is the reason Daniel Deuser and Christian Ahlmann have not competed for the powerhouse show jumping nation since the end of the 2016 season. Indeed, in Bordeaux, when asked, "Will we see you again on a German team this year?", the rider replied, "We have had good talks lately, and I think a decision should be made within the next couple of weeks."

And yet, while Deusser is still hoping to reach an agreement with the German Equestrian Federation chaired by Breido Graf zu Rantzau and directed by Sönke Lauterbach, the winner of the 2014 World Cup Final in Lyon, two-time Team Silver medalist at the European Championships (in 2013 Herning and 2015 in Aachen), and bronze medalist at the last Olympic Games in Rio has been considering his options should the negotiations break down. In that case, Deusser envisions closing the German chapter of his high-flying career and starting a new one under the colours of Belgium. "The best solution for me, of course, would be to ride for the German team again, a team I feel very connected to,” he says. “But if that is not the case, then yes, I will ride for Belgium as I am already half-Belgian. I have lived for several years in the country, my wife [Caroline, daughter of the late show jumper Eric Wauters – ed.] and my daughter are Belgian, as well as Stephan Conter, my boss and the owner of my horses. That would make sense to me."

“This contract carries risks that I do not want to take”

Inseparable from Air Jordan, Cornet d'Amour and First Class van Eeckelghem, but also winner of prestigious classes with Evita van de Veldbalie, Equita van't Zorgvliet, Espyrante and more recently Cornet 39, Calisto Blue and Tobago Z, Daniel Deuser has never gotten over his frustration with the current situation. "Even if it has taken some pressure off me and allowed me to ride more freely, it is hard for me not to be part of the national team because I love the Nations Cup series and the championships,” the rider explains, adding: “I have never considered myself indispensable for the German team, and they proved that at the Tryon World Equestrian Games [the team won bronze before Simone Blum won in the Individual event with DSP Gold Alice]. But I have a great passion for those big events, as does Stephan Conter, who continues to secure horses of the highest level to me. Last year, I could have competed in some Nations Cup with one or two of them... But the contract imposed by our federation carries risks I do not want to take, all the more so as riders from other big jumping nations are not subject to the same restrictions."
Since the beginning of the discussions, Daniel Deusser and Christian Ahlmann – who have sometimes had fingers pointed at them due to the current situation – have not been heard publicly about why exactly this controversial contract seems so unfair to them. But in Bordeaux, the tall 37-year-old agreed to explain things further. "We initially talked a lot about the rule forbidding riders in doping cases from pursuing legal action [in retaliation - ed.] in common law against the Federation, but that is not the only problem,” he says. “With this contract, riders and horses have to go through additional anti-doping tests outside of competition. And that’s also no problem in itself – why not – but in that case it forces us to inform the Federation about all our travel, events and activities 90 days in advance... And that's really incompatible with the life of a professional rider. In addition, the Federation needs to be informed about controlled medications administered at home [for both humans and horses – ed.]. But I do not think that it is fair to be held responsible for the possible oversight of a veterinarian treating a lame horse who forgets to note such and such a substance in the documentation."

"To top it all off," he continues, "there is no established sanction scale for violations of these rules. It is simply said that the individual in violation can receive a fine of a few hundred euros up to a two-year suspension as a punishment. That leaves too much discretion to our sports jurisdictions... It would seem clearer to me to categorize the offenses and punishments. So far, no other national federation has imposed this on its riders. And I do not understand why my German teammates accepted it. "

"The rules must be fair and clear"

While the current state of the discussions remains confidential, it is hard to imagine the German NF offering an exemption to the two riders, who have been sanctioned in the past on this issue. And in any case, Deusser insists, “I won’t speak for Christian, even though I think we’re on the same wavelength, but that is not at all what we’re asking for. The rules have to be the same for everyone, and they have to be fair and clear, which is not the case currently.” In this affair, it also seems that the German National Federation, which has been tarnished more than any other by doping cases and is dependant on public subsidies, wishes to follow the German Ministry of Sports, which has applied similar rules in other Olympic sports. It is also possible that the retirement of the great Ludger Beerbaum from the national team in the Autumn of 2016 gave fresh impetus and freedom to administrators to apply the new policy. 

Will Otto Becker, Chef d'Equipe of a national team which currently has only three riders in the elite group [Simone Blum, Marcus Ehning and Maurice Tebbel] manage to lead the parties to an agreement and thus block a nationality change of unprecedented importance in the history of German show jumping? That is the big question and challenge in the weeks to come. It will also be interesting to see what Christian Ahlmann does. Even though he still lives in Germany and regularly rides horses from German owner Marion Jauss, Ahlmann is also strongly connected to Belgium. Not least because of his strong partnership with the Zangersheide stud farm, and in his private life, which he has shared for many years with the Belgian Judy-Ann Melchior, who owns and manages Zangersheide.

Further reading...