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Federation Accepts Olympic Horse Restrictions, Ending Feud With Georgia

January 5, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ International equestrian officials Friday reluctantly accepted Georgia’s terms for allowing horses infected with a tick-borne virus to compete in the Summer Olympics.

Under 20 conditions laid out by state Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, some horses will be isolated in an expensive quarantine except when they are warming up or competing. No infected horse will be allowed to participate in the cross-country competition.

Though the International Equestrian Federation wanted more time to develop a detailed response to Irvin’s demands, an extension of Friday’s deadline was denied.

``We have no choice but to accept the waiver that has been offered,″ Bo Helander, secretary general of the federation, said in a letter to Irvin.

Irvin said he considered the federation’s acceptance unconditional and warned that any wavering could result in banishment of the horses from the Games.

``Any conditions that break down in them fulfilling their obligation to us could prevent this thing from ever coming about,″ Irvin said.

But Frits Sluyter, head of the federation’s veterinary department, said the acceptance was preliminary.

``It’s not a deadline for meeting the conditions,″ Sluyter said. ``It’s a deadline for reactions. That’s what we did.″

At issue are horses that test positive for piroplasmosis, a sometimes fatal disease that is common among horses in Europe and South America. The disease has been eradicated in the United States, though one quarantined piroplasmosis-positive horse does live in Georgia.

Georgia ordinarily does not allow infected horses into the state, but the federation had asked for waivers to ensure that the world’s top horses would be able to compete in the Olympics. Twenty-eight horses that have qualified for the ’96 Games have tested positive for the disease, although 14 of them compete in the cross-country event and will not be allowed to come to Atlanta.

Horse owners in Georgia were alarmed at the prospect of the disease spreading to domestic horses in the state.

Irvin said the major sticking point in negotiations was the cost of the quarantine, which could run as high as $1 million. He insisted the federation would be responsible for paying.

``We made it absolutely clear that the state or the federal government would not incur any costs at all _ that still stands,″ Irvin said.

Dick Yarbrough, spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said ACOG probably would share the costs with the equestrian federation.

``What we’ve got to do is sort it out _ we know who is not paying,″ Yarbrough said.

Though Irvin said ACOG supported his stance, Yarbrough said the organizing committee remained neutral on the substance of the dispute.

``What we supported very much was his efforts to reach a satisfactory conclusion to what is a very complicated issue,″ he said.

Among the conditions Irvin insisted on for allowing the horses into the state were establishment of a fenced isolation area at the equestrian venue in Conyers, 24-hour surveillance by state and federal agriculture officers and clearly marked identification on the horses.

The cross-country race is part of what’s called the three-day event at the Olympics. The events in which the infected horses may participate are the dressage and show jumping.

Some federation officials still want waivers for the three-day event, Irvin said.

``They’re still batting around something that’s a dead issue with us,″ Irvin said. ``We’ve told them from Day 1 that there will be no three-day horses to come here ... there’s no way possible that we can offer the protection that we’re going to offer if we had horses traveling all over a 27-mile course.″

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