Eventing and jumping riders reached deadlock with the FEI over plans to reduce teams to three riders with no drop score as one of the mechanisms for remaining in the Olympic Games.
The FEI hoped to discuss a number of topics in the morning session of its annual Sports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland today, 4 April, but it became difficult during the extended four-hour debate to get beyond the conflict between retaining “excellence” and aiming to accommodate new countries by reducing team membership to three.
Dressage seems resigned to the prospect, but eventing and jumping raised possible horse welfare risks from forcing three struggling riders to finish when there was no drop score.
Australian delegate Judy Fasher said the probability of a low team completion rate in eventing would give the IOC a “cast-iron excuse” to remove eventing from the Olympic programme anyway.
Dual Olympic course designer Mike Etherington-Smith, chair of the European federation working group, said the FEI was trying to make three diverse disciplines fit the same formula.
“Trying to straitjacket the disciplines is all very sexy, but overwhelmingly the feeling [of riders] is we should focus more effort on sports presentation, and we have offered to be involved in that,” he said.
Elenora Ottaviani, director of the International Jumping Riders Club, said her survey showed the main jumping nations and all the past 15 world, Olympic and European champions were unanimous in retaining four to a team, a preference indicated the previous day by Steve Guerdat.
Ingmar De Vos, FEI president, and John Madden, FEI vice president and chair of the jumping committee, both laboured that three to a team was the only way to ensure more countries at the Games within the current quota of 200 horses. “The math is the same all round the world,” said Madden.
Eventually, eventing committee chair Guiseppe Della Chiesa agreed to consider a proposal from Sydney Olympic champion David O’Connor, now manager of the US team, that if three to a team was inevitable, a CIC format be adopted.
O’Connor said statistics showed more countries were likely to complete if the cross-country was staged last.
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Distinguished Los Angeles sports journalist Alan Abrahamson told delegates to see the challenge of remaining in the Olympics as an opportunity, not something born of desperation, and underlined the importance of engaging the teenage “Snapchat” generation.