Harry Meade: Badminton’s history is invaluable *H&H VIP*

Opinion

Each year Badminton throws up a fascinating story, and hopefully this one will stand out as a great for the final year of Mitsubishi Motors’ sponsorship. The 28-year partnership is the longest-standing in sports sponsorship and has set a gold standard to which other sporting events aspire.

Badminton also celebrates its 70th anniversary; it is steeped in history, and the past winners belong to a truly elite club. Badminton occupies a slot in the British sporting calendar that reaches far beyond equestrian confines.

Even without any marketing, there would still be massive crowds. The people who take their grandchildren remember going with their grandparents — such heritage is the envy of any sports event organiser.

This once-in-a-generation change means another brand now has a chance to step into a major sporting partnership.

Depth of quality

A new sponsor will mean a new trophy for Badminton, as the current one was commissioned by Mitsubishi. Sculpted by Judy Boyt, with three horses representing eventing’s phases, it’s a wonderful piece of art. Each year the winning owner and rider keep a bronze resin replica, while the top 12 receive one of the horses.

As always, this year’s line-up is thick with quality. Around 50 of the 85 starters could realistically be in the top 12.

With three to a team in the Olympics now, the number of top-class combinations there will be reduced; eventing’s seven dominant nations should field three strong riders each and a handful of other leading individuals will take the total of top competitors to only 25 or 30. The rest of the field cannot hope to be really competitive.

Therefore, the Olympics is geographically diverse, but thin on quality. This is why Badminton is rightly seen as the unofficial individual World Championships.

This will be my 11th Badminton and it’s still as special as the first time — it’s the reason we all go the extra mile.

Talk but no change

The team at Bicton put on a superb event over Easter. The only black cloud was the 15-penalty rule, which is still causing widespread discontent.

Despite lengthy debates, the FEI say the rule will stand for this year, but as H&H went to press, it looked likely it would send out a clarification, addressing issues such as who is best placed to decide the penalty (the fence judge or ground jury) and guidelines on reviewing footage. But the proposed statement fails to tackle the central issue that a horse who jumps the correct side of the flag but moves or dislodges it with its shoulder or pelvis should be judged clear; the rule states that if any part of the horse’s body strays outside the original flag line, it should be penalised.

While the FEI seem to share the sentiment that this should be allowed, we are all bound by a rule stating otherwise and the clarification won’t change that.

We will therefore be reliant on ground juries, as at Kentucky, to willfully ignore the rule in instances such as Lauren Kieffer’s — her horse drifted through the flag but was judged clear. This was the right result, but the rule needs changing as we can’t expect all officials to overlook a clear rule, whatever the unwritten intentions of those who composed it.

Ref Horse & Hound; 2 May 2019