Future of Olympic equestrian sport under threat

  • THE president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has warned that the status of equestrian sports within the Olympic movement is precarious.

    Princess Haya told H&H that despite the undoubtedly great sport and brilliant organisation of Hong Kong, there is no guarantee that horse sports can survive in the Olympics beyond 2012 — or even get that far — and could follow sports such as cricket and polo out of the Olympic door.

    “The FEI has a huge fight to even get to 2012,” explained Princess Haya, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the FEI’s first elected president.

    “The IOC have heard from our stakeholders and wrote to us about the set-up and presentation of dressage.

    “The popularity of dressage is abnormally low and there are complaints about judging and the make up of judging panels and committees,” she said. “Anyone who thinks equestrian sports are secure for London is mistaken.”

    “The IOC has very reasonable and legitimate concerns about eventing safety and the way the dressage committee is working.

    “It could also be the end of show jumping as an Olympic sport, too, as they are unlikely to leave it on its own.”

    The controversy at the Olympics last week, when four show jumping riders were suspended following positive dope tests on their horses, will not have helped boost the sport’s image.

    Alluding to the eventing, Princess Haya said Mark Todd’s comeback, the spirit shown by Mary King, the proliferation of new names and Mike Etherington-Smith’s “super” course, were high points of the competition.

    “The amazing standard of dressage on the first day was great for the sport. And we have roped in a whole new audience from outside.

    “But walking away and saying ‘thank God nobody died,’ isn’t good enough.”

    The princess also urged the British equestrian community to back Greenwich as the venue for the equestrian competition at the London 2012 Games — and to be more welcoming.

    “I don’t think any city has looked forward to a Games more than London. Everyone knows the sport is going to get the best possible platform. We [the FEI] see Greenwich as an equestrian Games,” she said. “But the message we are hearing all over the world is that Britain doesn’t want it, and the discord is sad to see.”

    Read this interview in full in the current issue of Horse & Hound

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