It seems that the only people who are really in favor of the FEI’s changes to the format of the equestrian events at the Olympic Games, are those who have no knowledge of, or feeling for, equestrian sport.
One of the most contentious changes is the reducing of teams to three with no drop score.
This has prompted the International Jumping Riders Club to join with the Jumping Owners Club, and in an open letter express their ‘surprise, disappointment and concern’ that riders and owners had not been consulted before the changes had been agreed upon – and indeed an alternative proposal put forward by the Jumping Owners Club had not even been considered.
The Canadian showjumpers, lead by medalist, Eric Lemaze, have vigorously condemned their own Federation for voting for the changes without consulting their own riders.
My pal, Jacob Melissen who has been one of Holland’s leading equestrian journalists for decades, published a blog entitled “Equestrian sport signs death warrant – Winning is more important than participating,” which has been translated on www.eurodressage.com
In Jacob’s opinion: “They are blissfully unaware, the 96 country delegates that voted this past Tuesday in favour of the FEI proposal to reduce Olympic national teams from 4 to 3 athletes. I believe they signed the death warrant of the equestrian sport as an Olympic discipline.”
While Jacob’s emphasis is on showjumping, I believe the change has even scarier implications for eventing. The stated aim is to increase the number of nations taking part – only bureaucrats in Lucerne could be unaware that this greatly increases the chances of a serious – end the sport now – accident happening.
Back in 2000, when the IOC forced us to run two 3DE events, team and individual at the Sydney Games, a number of riders made it to the individual event that came from countries that could not form teams for the very good reason that they didn’t have enough riders who could handle an Olympic track. The result was a number of very unpleasant photos or video sequences with horses falling and blundering over jumps. There was a world wide anti-eventing reaction which lead to eventing being dropped from the Beijing Games before Wayne Roycroft managed to save it. Even with the decision to make the Games track, three not four star, we are greatly increasing the risk of a disaster. Okay, add more nations to the dressage list, and the result might be boring, or even distasteful, but not life threatening.
Jacob goes on: “Ingmar de Vos, chairman of the FEI, motivated the decision by claiming that “[The FEI] needs to increase the number of participating nations at the Olympic Games, but within our existing quota of 200. Reducing team members to three per nation was probably the only way to boost the number of flags.” He is absolutely right of course, but the increase in flags will also increase the amount of ‘Eddie the Eagles’ in the equestrian sport with over a third.”
“It leaves a sour taste in my mouth that a lot of the countries with the most amount of Eddies have chosen in favour of the resolution. Not because they know what they are talking about, but because they now have hopes of going to Japan in 4 years so that they can be the proud Eddie who will be leaving the Grand Prix ring with a score of 59% or with 28 penalties in showjumping or by landing their horses in the middle of a cross country obstacle.”
At the International Jumping Riders Club Assembly in Geneva, showjumping gold medalist, Steve Guerdat challenged the FEI regarding the new Olympic format proposals, he pointed out: “One hundred and thirty-four federations were voting. Sixty of them don’t organise any equestrian events, 17 don’t have riders and 26 don’t have horses.” Yet, the votes of the countries without riders count equally with the ones that do…
Only eleven countries had the very good sense to vote FOR equestrian sport and against the changes:
Albania, Bulgaria, Latvia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Luxemburg, Monaco, Romania, Switzerland and The Netherlands…
And Australia, another country with a proud history of equestrian involvement, where were they? Voting with the ignorant majority. Shame!