Three to a team gets the nod for Paris 2024 despite concerns

  • Teams of three will go ahead at the Paris 2024 Games following a vote that split horse sport’s decision-makers at the FEI general assembly (14-17 November).

    The exact formats for the equestrian disciplines in the next Olympic and Paralympic Games are yet to be nailed down – this will happen at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board meeting in February. Rules and minimum eligibility requirements for Olympic disciplines are also still to be consulted on, and the process is expected to run over the next 12 months.

    Rather this week’s decision effectively sets in stone a qualification process that culminates in three combinations per team at both the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    The three-to-a-team format is contentious in its current guise and FEI president Ingmar de Vos proposed a separate vote on the qualification process to the teams of three point.

    H&H has extensively covered riders and national federations’ concerns over the three-to-a-team format. This week, the International Jumping Riders Club shared a video of multiple Olympic medallist Steve Guerdat speaking on the club’s behalf during one of the discussion meetings at the general assembly.

    Steve spoke about how there was “fantastic sport” in Tokyo, which was down to the athletes, course-designer and horses – and not the new format.

    In his 17-minute speech, he covered riders’ frustrations with the format, including how the individual contest was “over before it started” for some riders, whereas normally championships build towards the last day “when the competition should be at its best”.

    He also raised concerns from a horse welfare point of view over “bad pictures” of riders not up to the level, and that a rider should never be put in a position where he had to finish his round or the team is eliminated.

    He suggested that increasing the number of individual places and potentially reducing the number of teams, which would be made up of four riders, could be a better way forward. He explained this would increase the number of flags at the Games – a key IOC priority – and help grow equestrian sport in developing nations. This is because not all nations have enough riders at that level to field a team. So by boosting the individual quotas, it would help to build the sport globally and act as a progressive way towards more countries qualifying in future.

    “I want to look my daughter in the eyes and say to her that I tried everything until the last battle to save the sport that I love above everything,” he said.

    “I hope that together we can achieve what we all think is impossible: that we go back with the four riders and the drop score for the good of our horses.”

    A total of 70 national federations voted in favour of teams of three at the 2024 Olympics, with 30 voting against and one abstention.

    The Paris 2024 qualification systems for jumping, dressage and eventing were passed, 81 in favour to 15 against.

    The vote on the teams of three for the Paralympic Games passed with 79 in favour and 19 against, while there were 90 votes in favour of the Paralympic qualification system and seven against. Para dressage MERs were included in this, as the qualification period starts on 1 January 2022.

    The final vote and general assembly was live-streamed, but the discussion meetings held this week were not. An FEI press release gave its summary of the rules and regulations session on Tuesday (16 November), which stated that the Olympic and Paralympic qualification systems for Paris 2024 were the “key topics of discussion”.

    The International Olympic Committee set a December 2021 deadline for all sports to submit their qualification systems for Paris. As the Tokyo Games were postponed by a year, this shortened the normal consultation process with national federations.

    The FEI press release said Mr de Vos “underscored” that Olympic-style teams of three formats will not apply to other FEI championships, games or finals.

    European Equestrian Federation (EEF) representatives presented a last-minute EEF proposal on alternative qualification pathways, based on both teams of four and teams of three.

    The proposal called for more emphasis on World Championships and the FEI Nations Cup series as qualification pathways across the three disciplines, rather than regional championships such as the Europeans.

    FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez is said to have raised concerns that the proposal does not meet the IOC’s Olympic qualification system principles. In the end, this was not the proposal that was voted on.

    FEI regional group VIII chair Jack Huang said lack of preparation owing to pandemic lockdowns could explain some less than optimal performances, but that this would be eliminated by strengthening the minimum eligibility requirements for Paris

    United States Equestrian director of sport Will Connell called for longer-term thinking on the Olympic formats, to include Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032.

    Mr de Vos confirmed that qualification systems and formats for Los Angeles 2028 should feature in the 2023 FEI sports forum.

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