THE decision to remove the riding element of modern pentathlon has been questioned not only by federations but also by welfare experts.
World governing body UIPM announced on 4 November, after days of rumour, that the showjumping would be dropped after the Paris 2024 Games. The UIPM board had endorsed recommendations made by its innovation commission, set up some years ago to “continuously monitor the composition of modern pentathlon and review its suitability for the Olympic Games”.
The board agreed that riding be replaced with a discipline that “enhances the popularity and credibility of modern pentathlon, while preserving its status as the ultimate physical and mental sporting challenge – as envisaged by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games”.
A consultation has been launched to find the replacement sport.
UIPM president Klaus Schormann said: “Many times in recent decades our sport has evolved to meet the changing expectations of the modern world. We can be rightly proud of what our global family has achieved, and now the time has come to be bold and ambitious once again.
“On behalf of the UIPM executive board I ask our global community to embrace change and grasp the momentous opportunity before us. A new discipline will provide fresh impetus to our sport and strengthen the position of modern pentathlon within the Olympic movement.
“We now look forward to an inclusive and very positive consultation process as we consider which sporting discipline is the most suitable to take modern pentathlon into a new era.”
Former modern pentathlete Kate Allenby, who won bronze at the Sydney 2000 Games, told H&H she felt for the members of the working group, set up to review the riding in Tokyo, whom she says are “very good people, who have been working so hard”.
“I’m furious for those people, and the sport,” she said. “You think, how long [has UIPM] known about this, was it a smokescreen?”
Kate added that it is “terrifying” to think of modern pentathlon without riding.
“What’s going to happen to the sport?” she added. “Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s vision has always been the trump card to stay in the Games, and without riding, it’s a different product.”
World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers told H&H the format of the sport is a matter for UIPM but that the charity would “certainly question the thinking behind this decision”
“No one could condone what happened at this year’s Olympics but the issue wasn’t that horses were being ridden but how the horses were ridden and the rules of the competition,” he said. “We believe this could have been addressed while maintaining the sport’s integrity.
“Riding at any level needs an appreciation for how to get the best out of a horse, which is as relevant today as it was when the Olympics were established in ancient Greece. There is a risk that some will see this change as vindication of their view that horse welfare will always suffer when horses compete – a position we would utterly refute.
“The FEI, along with World Horse Welfare, have offered the UIPM support to learn the lessons from the Tokyo Olympics, which we hope they will utilise in order to achieve the highest standards of welfare and horsemanship at Paris 2024 and also to reconsider the decision to remove riding from this unique sport.”
Pentathlon GB chairman David Armstrong said it was a “sad day” for the sport, and that the body is “disappointed at the suddenness of this decision and the lack of consultation until now”.
“But we also understand that modern pentathlon’s place in the Olympic Games is very important and was under threat,” he said.
Pentathlon GB said the decision had “most likely” been taken in light of the scenes during the women’s event in Tokyo, which sparked worldwide outrage.
“But also because of a desire to make the sport more accessible,” a spokesman said.
“These ambitions are acknowledged but it is disappointing that the excellent work done by the sport’s riding working group has not been given the opportunity to be tested in practice before this decision was made.
“British pentathletes have always enthusiastically supported the riding discipline and many of our leading athletes have come into the sport from a riding background, most notably Tokyo gold medallist Kate French. Others have come to the sport from a non-riding background and excelled, such as Olympic champion Joe Choong. The sport will be very different without this important source of new athletes and we will have to fully assess our talent pathways.”
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