There were celebrations in the British camp at the FEI general assembly as an 11th hour attempt to keep the number of para riders in a squad at 5 was voted through.
At the FEI’s sport forum in April, FEI para dressage director Trond Asmyr had said capping the number of riders at 4 was necessary to “open the sport to more countries” and align para dressage with the other Olympic disciplines.
But this drew an impassioned protest from Britain, who said the move was designed to discriminate against Team GBR’s success.
At London 2012, Britain fielded a team of 4 and 1 individual, with 1 athlete in each of the 5 categories of disability. We won a 5th consecutive team gold.
BEF president Keith Taylor told the general assembly (7 November) that the FEI’s proposed rule change was “unfair and discriminatory”.
Mr Taylor lobbied hard behind the scenes in Montreux, persuading other federations to vote for his amendment. He proposed that individual qualification places were made open to all nations, and did not exclude those who had already qualified a team of 4.
The FEI stated its opposition to the move, but delegates voted it through. This means Britain, and other nations who are able to do so, can field 5 athletes at Rio 2016. Natasha Baker — who won 2 golds as an individual at Greenwich — said she was “thrilled”.
“It’s fantastic for the sport,” she told H&H. “There are so many other countries coming through; the Irish were never expected to get the bronze in London. Yes, Britain is up there — but the gap is getting smaller each time.”
Deb Criddle, who helped secure team gold in Greenwich, added that limiting the number of riders to 4 would have been a retrogressive step.
“When you go to the Paralympics, you want to feel you are competing against the best,” she said.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (14 November, 2013)