British Eventing to scrap ballot system in moves to improve the sport

  • The ballot system will be scrapped and an overhaul of the fixtures calendar is under way as British Eventing (BE) takes significant steps to modernise the sport for the benefit of its members.

    The intention is to give more flexibility to the calendar by removing red tape, and so ensure BE is offering the best fixtures.

    The removal of the ballot process is underpinned by feedback from members, and the aim is to move away from the costly, bureaucratic system of entering events well in advance, only to find out weeks later that you have not got in.

    BE chairman Mark Sartori alluded to forthcoming changes to the calendar and the ballot system in the organisation’s podcast with EquiRatings.

    “I would argue that [BE] shouldn’t be like an oil tanker,” he said, adding it has to be more flexible.

    “I think people are starting to understand, which makes me even more excited for the next few years, that this is a new BE. We’ve acknowledged the errors of the past, we have some leadership now, and we are moving the sport forward.”

    He said the rise of the unaffiliated market is the “biggest wake-up call that we can have and it’s never going away”.

    He explained there is a balance in improving the fixtures calendar, supporting events that need to be supported and ensuring the sport does not become confined to a “corridor of power” in the busier regions.

    “I can understand in theory the ballot system, but in practice what that means is that everybody waits [to enter] and unless they see those numbers come in, there is this spiral where people then don’t enter. The knock-on effect for the next two or three weeks is totally unfair. We want to introduce a first-come, first-served system, and be much more visible on it,” he said, adding that he believes this will be’ “better for organisers and therefore our members”.

    BE chief executive Helen West expanded.

    “The ballot system can be perceived as confusing and a barrier to bringing new people in at the grassroots level,” Helen told H&H, adding that BE wants to make the sport more straightforward and understandable.

    “A lot of the feedback, certainly from our grassroots members, is they hate the ballot and like first come, first served. They want to know in a short space of time whether they have an entry or not. They don’t want to wait two to three weeks, [or even] then have to potentially wait again until the sectioning is done, to then be told they have been balloted out.”

    She said BE needs to “move away from being a giant admin centre” and get back to focusing on the sport.

    Removing the complex ballot system would pave the way to allow organisers greater choice in who they choose to provide their entry system – with a number of properly managed, frequently updated professional digital providers available in the market. These will be accredited, as there is the risk management factor so entries and results will need to be validated.

    But, Helen explained, it takes away the need for BE to be a complete IT service provider, as these would no longer be coming through the BE website. There will be no sudden cut-off, the current system will continue to run until the end of 2024 to give events time to find the best provider for them, with the knowledge that the BE system is there if they need it.

    “BE isn’t an IT company and it shouldn’t be,” she said. “We spend more money on technology than sport, how can that be right? Fundamentally, it has to stop.”
    Ms West, who approaches the challenge as someone who has experience as a rider, owner and event organiser, said BE members will be given a priority window to enter events. There is also provision in third-party software to reserve a certain chunk of spots, which could for example be used as spaces for those who have volunteered at an event.

    Looking at the fixtures list puzzle, Ms West said BE is taking a “common sense approach” taking into account many factors and the understanding that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to the principles of managing the calendar.

    “I want the best events in the calendar,” she said, adding that she hopes this will also result in continual upward drive in terms of standards. “We need to be offering the best product to our members.”

    There are some broad strokes – the affiliation agreement for next year includes a clause that events do not run an unaffiliated fixture (not including Pony Club, Riding Club or “Go BE” events) in the two weeks before or after a BE event.

    Ms West said there are very good unaffiliated events which have not been able to get into the BE calendar, which is “fundamentally wrong”, and she also understands the frustration of being an affiliated organiser and seeing the ability to put on certain higher levels of event as a “closed shop”. This is something she wants to change, while appreciating that event organisers need a level of confidence in return on the investment they put into developing fixtures. So the plan is not to go “too nuclear”, but rather find a balance.

    Events that run classes at novice level and above have been given protected holding spots in the calendar, following consultation with organisers over whether they would like to stick or change dates. And the grassroots calendar has been opened up to a greater extent. It is not a free-for-all – there will be some oversight – but the hope is for a calendar that will better serve its members and organisers. As H&H went to press, the 2023 calendar was being decided.

    “I’m not promising it will be perfect, I have much hope it will be an improvement and encourage people to come under the BE umbrella,” she said.

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