I’ve been involved in equestrianism for a long time and have seen many positive developments. Yet I have never known the distance between our national federation — the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) — and the core of the sport be so great.
The BEF appears to be in the grip of committee-itis. It has grown in personnel, yet has lost its way. It risks failing its army of enthusiasts.
The members of the disciplines’ organisations are surely what really count. The most direct contact any of our organising bodies have with their members is via the efforts of shows and their organisers. Yet when major projects arise, the BEF seems happy to pick its own small band of advisers and reject the opinions of many others who have equal, maybe greater, expertise; particularly if they are deemed difficult!
Why on earth reject this free advice, let alone isolate those who wish to give it? A major examination of the sport carried out at a cost of some £110,000 (plus a continuation fee of some £70,000 for a facilities study) found equestrianism is not unified and suggested the BEF should work towards a more cohesive structure.
This is something many would have told the BEF for a lot less. But has anything actually changed?
An example of its closed shop is the serious questions many of us have about the Greenwich site for the 2012 Olympic Games equestrian events. The London bid committee did a fantastic job in getting the Games. But now reality is setting in. More knowledgeable people than me believe Greenwich is not big enough. Indeed, 150 acres would not usually be deemed big enough for a one-day event.
If this is so, we should be told the reason for spending, what I understand will be, at least £11million, on a project that will yield no hard legacy except a boom for providers of temporary structures.
I appreciate the arguments of those who want equestrianism at the heart of London. After all, I’m a Londoner. But Greenwich will go back to being a London park. Haven’t we learnt from the Millennium Dome? What’s the point of sinking millions into something with no further benefit to the public after 2012?
The “soft legacy”, as BEF chief executive Andrew Finding described it to me, is surely no more than a “feel-good” factor. While this may be cosy, it will be temporary. When will the horse world next have such a magnificent chance to invest in its infrastructure?
If the critics are wrong, why not invite them to a gathering and reveal the full depth of the Greenwich plans?
To give a further example, I read in H&H (news, 22 June), that Hickstead had not submitted a bid for the joint European Championships for show jumping and dressage in 2009. In fact, we at Hickstead only found out after reading in H&H two weeks earlier that tenders were being invited. Hickstead contacted the BEF and stated that it was interested, reiterating its credentials, but pleading that three weeks’ notice in the run-up to the Derby and the Royal International was totally insufficient.
I’ve known Hickstead’s creator Douglas Bunn and his dedicated family for 17 years. Where would equestrianism in Britain be without them? And this is how they are treated. Who decided on such a ridiculously short time limit?
Others may have coped with the BEF’s timescale but they were not in the run-up to their major events. Hickstead knows exactly what is required, as we created successful tender bids for the 1999 show jumping and 2003 dressage Europeans. Hickstead had the idea and got support and guidance from UK Sport. Hickstead knows submissions cannot be treated in a cavalier manner. We were not comfortable with doing a rush job.
Our reward was to be rejected at the first post. I have since heard that Hickstead did not show enough “enthusiasm”. I would defy anyone to give Hugh Thomas [BEF chairman and Badminton director] such a task three weeks before Badminton!
Shows are the lifeblood of our sport and our volunteers are the lifeblood of the shows. The horse public must be represented by our federation in a way that makes us all proud. Many of our helpers want to be involved in the 2009 Europeans and the 2012 Games, wherever they are held.
We need a federation that cares about us, values our input and informs us openly of its decisions on our behalf — even if some of us are bloody difficult! Come on BEF, how about it?