The current format of the FEI Nations Cup series will be scrapped next season.

At the FEI’s sports forum in Lausanne (30 April-2 May), where the news was announced last week, it was widely agreed that the current system is confusing and unexciting.

But some current Nations Cup shows, including Hickstead, fear they may no longer be allowed to host these elite competitions as a result.

This potentially reduces the calibre of the riders who attend and the appeal of their shows to sponsors and TV.

The Saudi Equestrian Fund takes over sponsorship this year. But a five-year extension is conditional on involving more of the fast-evolving showjumping regions, such as the Middle East, China and South America.

There are currently 23 shows in the Nations Cup series, spread across the top, promotional, challengers’, American and Middle Eastern leagues. This could drop to seven worldwide.

And if, as is suggested, the host shows are banned from staging a more valuable grand prix, many existing Nations Cup hosts could opt out.

Hickstead has hosted the British Nations Cup since 1971.

“We don’t know whether we will have a Nations Cup next year or just a grand prix,” said organiser Lizzie Bunn.

“It would have been nice to have known about the plans in advance so we could have gone to the forum with suggestions.”

Currently, Longines’ £100k annual sponsorship at Hickstead is dependent on the show retaining a Nations Cup.

Rotterdam show’s Jan Willem Korner is concerned it will downgrade the competition.

“It is not attractive to an organiser to have Bulgaria competing alongside Germany or for an audience to have such disparity in quality,” he said.

Others feel the new format is being rushed. Speaking after the forum, Hanfried Haring of the European Equestrian Federation said: “We are being asked to act too quickly – who knows what the consequences will be for selection plans.

“But we have to look for a new concept. Without a Nations Cup series, we’ll have problems staying in the Olympics.”

John Madden, chairman of the FEI jumping committee, added: “This is our opportunity to become a front page sport.”

The industry can comment on the proposals on the FEI website. The final plan will be ratified by the FEI in Istanbul, Turkey, in November.

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (10 May 2012)

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