Sparse coverage in the mainstream media of Pippa Funnell’s momentous Burghley victory has highlighted the poor profile of equestrian sports in the public consciousness, according to Burghley director Bill Henson.
“We had 330 members of the press from every major newspaper and broadcaster accredited for the event, and with Pippa’s Grand Slam bid and Zara Phillips’s progress in the sport, there were some wonderful stories to tell. So the level of coverage is disappointing to say the least,” he says.
With Burghley clashing with international cricket, golf, rugby and superbikes, it was always in danger of being edged out of the TV coverage. Despite the efforts of Bill and his team to rejig the entire schedule to fit in with the BBC, it failed even to feature on the late night news sports round-up.
Bill says: “It is a sad reflection of the profile of eventing — there are so many other sports people are interested in these days. When show jumping was at its most prominent, eventing would get coverage on the back of it, but, sadly, that’s no longer the case.”
He believes that the governing bodies of equestrian sport have to take the initiative.
“Our remit is only to promote our event, but so often we find ourselves having to sell the sport itself as well. British Eventing has a unique opportunity to capitalise in the interest not just in Pippa but in Zara Phillips, and it is an opportunity that must not be missed.”
Brian Giles, equestrian sport specialist for the Daily Mail, the only tabloid giving regular coverage to equestrian disciplines, also believes that the sports themselves have to work harder.
“If sports editors are given stories, they will use them. We did run a preview of Burghley featuring Pippa’s story, but in general the industry does not seem to create the news it did previously,” he says.
“There seems to be a reluctance to let us have any news that is less than positive. But if, for example, a well-known rider gets injured and it affects their team selection, that is an important story.”
However, British Eventing’s chief executive, Peter Durrant, is more upbeat.
“I felt that on the whole, the coverage was positive, and we are continuing to develop our relationships with the mainstream media. We are happy to feed stories of more general interest to the press, but we do respect the riders’ right to a private life.”