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The Finnmark Race 2019 – Strong Emphasis On Animal Welfare

March 20, 2019 | 2:12 pm

The Finnmark Race 2019 recently finished, with very positive feedback from participants, the public, the press and its partners. With such a large event, there is always the possibility that a situation causing discussion will arise. This year, questions have been asked about why the jury disqualified musher Petter Karlsson from the race’s longest distance. In order to contribute to the best possible transparency, we have, in agreement with the participant, chosen to make this announcement. Petter Karlsson has on Tuesday 19 March waived the jury’s as well as the organizer’s confidentiality clause.

Finnmarksløpet AS [The Finnmark Race Ltd.] is partially owned by Alta Sleddog Association and the rules of the Norwegian Sleddog Association (NHF) as well as the Finnmarksløpet special rules apply to the race. The NHF regulations provide guidelines for constituting a race jury as well as for its work. The jury, led by a technical delegate (TD) has a total of four members and in addition to the TD, the jury consists of a race marshal, a representative from the organizer and a musher appointed by the participants themselves. The jury is independent of the Finnmark Race as organizer and makes its own decision without the organizer being involved.

The jury has emphasized the fact that relatively early on in the race, worries about a quick loss of ‘body score’ (veterinarians’ term for body mass index for dogs) were communicated to Petter Karlsson regarding several of his dogs. The participant then had several tough legs ahead, and he was recommended to adjust his mushing based on his dogs’ condition at this stage.

Later in the race, it was pointed out to the participant that he had to improve this in order to make it through the mandatory vet check in Karasjok, and he was informed that he would not pass that check if things were to remain as they were at the time of this message being given.

The jury decision to disqualify Petter Karlsson came in Karasjok, on the sixth day of the race. There were still 132 kilometers remaining. Several of Karlsson’s dogs had lower ‘body score’ on arrival in Karasjok. The jury’s assessment, even following 24 hours of rest, was that it would not be responsible to allow the team to continue the race towards Alta given the shape the dogs were in.

It is important to emphasize that the decision about disqualification was made based on an overall assessment of what happened throughout Petter Karlsson’s race. The jury emphasizes that the participant chose to mush on relatively hard despite repeated messages from the vet team about making the adjustments required to increase the ‘body score’ of his dogs.  Karlsson thus went to Karasjok, where the regulations stopped him from continuing due to the mandatory vet check.

The jury and the organizer has through several meetings and conversations with Karlsson during and after the race arrived at a clear understanding that he agrees that he had fed his dogs with dog food containing too little fat, and that this in combination with diarrhea for several dogs and low appetite prior to race start may have led the dogs to lose weight relatively fast and this was not offset at the time of disqualification. Information about the condition of Petter Karlsson’s team was continually communicated to the race management.

As for the vet checks in Karasjok, three vet checks were conducted during the race. The third check was conducted at 18:00 hrs on Friday. The dogs where then still considered not fit to proceed due to low ‘body score’. Karlsson was thus disqualified following the third vet check, based on an overall assessment throughout the race.

Following a wish from the participant, the vets agreed to conduct a fourth vet check at 02:00 hrs, i.e. following his being disqualified. The check was conducted following 26 hours at the checkpoint and demonstrated a ‘body score’ increase of 0.5 points. It should be stressed that this was not a check that would contribute to Karlsson’s being allowed to proceed the race. All teams that scratch from the race have a final vet check.

The jury’s decision is related to the special regulations for the Finnmark Race, section 12 Animal welfare and health:

FL is to be conducted with a particular focus on the welfare and health of the dogs. FL as organizers and FL participants both carry mutual responsibility for the race dogs.

1) The participant in Finnmarksløpet is responsible for caring, feeding and maintaining the welfare and health of their dogs according to the needs of the dog at all times. The dogs and other participants’ dogs must be treated with respect and kindness. Participants should mush and manage their race in accordance with their own dogs’ fitness, physical and health preconditions and status, and take into account how weather and conditions affect the dogs during the race.

Violation of the rule may cause disqualification of the participant.

The jury evaluated the case in light of the duty to report contained in the Animal Welfare Act and unanimously agreed that there was no reason to report.

Finnmarksløpet as an organizer is very focused on a fair competition and solid animal welfare. The jury’s acting sovereignly and independently is in everyone’s best interest. The organizing and constitution of the jury is decided by the NHF members and is to maintain animal welfare as well as the interests of mushers, the dogs and the sport. The organizer takes note of the jury’s decision and the reasons given.

As an organizer we always strive to improve. We evaluate the whole event and send out questionnaires to participants where all aspects of the race will be evaluated. In addition we make evaluations in cooperation with volunteers, vets, the NHF, partners as well as our own employees. We will use the input received to improve and to be better equipped for future races.

We are sorry that one of this year’s participants has left Finnmark feeling unfairly treated. Both the organizer and the jury has had several meetings and conversations with Petter Karlsson in Alta after the race as well as on the phone upon his arriving home in order to make sure that a complete statement account for the jury’s decision and the organizer’s handling of the matter has been provided. The Finnmark Race has in all its communication with Karlsson clearly expressed that we appreciate him and his efforts in the sport. We welcome Karlsson and all other mushers back to Alta for the start of the 2020 Finnmark Race!