Uproar after British Eventing changes rules on number bibs

  • A brouhaha about number bibs has arisen over a mid-season rule change by British Eventing (BE) to support sponsors.

    During the past year, enterprising companies started selling reusable numbers that fit inside competitor number bibs, in reaction to BE’s Covid regulations.

    Before the pandemic hit, competitors would collect the two sheets of A4 paper with their number printed on them from the secretary when they arrived at an event.

    However, as part of the sport’s safe return after the coronavirus enforced halt in 2020, BE stated competitors should print their own bib numbers before arriving.

    Brands including BibEaz, Number Pro and Bibnets reacted by producing reusable numbers, which use velcro, magnets or a ring-binder method, eliminating the need for riders to print their own number at home.

    Many competitors bought these and competed using them throughout 2020 and the start of the 2021 season. But the situation has since reached a sticking point.

    Event and or section sponsors often have their name on the official number and BE this week changed its rules to protect this, sparking huge online debate.

    On Tuesday (13 April), BE added a new rule stating that organisers may stipulate arrangements for competitor bib numbers in the event schedule and “where instructions are provided, competitors may not be allowed to compete unless these directions are complied with”.

    In short, this means organisers can require competitors to print the number they have provided, complete with advertising and sponsor information.

    The 13 April rule change regarding bib numbers.

    The rule change quietly came into effect less than three days ahead of Burnham Market. Competitors were contacted to alert them to the change — and the repercussions for not complying — via an email from the event.

    BE, which also announced its partnership with Number Pro on 1 April, put out a clarification statement regarding the rule on Wednesday (14 April) evening.

    “The ability to promote a brand on competitor numbers is a valuable asset to events,” it stated. “The support that the sport receives from a number of companies is incredibly important, and it is therefore crucial that any sponsorship arrangements are delivered.

    “Where a section is sponsored by a company and their name is displayed onto numbers these numbers must be worn by competitors. The rule amendment highlights that these numbers may be printed online or provided by the event within COVID-19 protocols. Each event will make any requirements clear in their online schedule.”

    It added: “Where sections do not carry a sponsor logo, and to aid in the reduction of printing, competitors may also use reusable number inserts in their bibs.”

    The 11th hour decision has sparked widespread debate online, with appreciation for the need to support the sponsors mixed with frustration.

    BibEaz founder Alicia Wilkinson told H&H the BE decision to add sanctions over this “feels out of touch with its members” and she wants to work with the organisation to find ways to support sponsors.

    “You only need to look at the social media storm and the recent petition that is gathering momentum to see the frustration – environmental impact and lack of access to printers being the main concerns,” she said.

    She added she wants to share ideas with BE and have the rule reversed.

    “I launched BibEaz last year to help riders reduce waste (paper and ink), save time and ultimately try to change people’s behaviour by reusing things,” she said.

    “We have had amazing support from professionals, Irish Eventing and thousands of riders across the UK and overseas. We have tried and would love to speak to British Eventing about finding ways to add value to sponsors, which seems to be the big concern for organisers. We have engaged other reusable bib number suppliers and have a solution.”

    Alicia suggested a solution that would work with all forms of numbers are clear, self-adhesive vinyl stickers paid for by sponsors — similar to the type that can be stuck in car windows.

    She added these could then be stuck to the inside of the bib holder above any numbers inside, with the advantage that they are reusable and agnostic to any number as it sticks to the holder rather than the insert.

    She explained these could then be created as clearer colourful logos, that stand out better than plain ink on paper, the correct colour and pantone for sponsor logo would always be used, and it would be ubiquitous branding, rather than the current mix from printers all over the UK.

    “BibEaz can always make custom branded ones [backgrounds] like we did with Irish Eventing, however if you want a solution that fits all, I think a self adhesive vinyl with sponsor logo on is best,” she added.

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    Social media discussions suggesting ideas that will benefit all sides — sponsors, BE, reusable number brands and competitors — have generated widespread suggestions.

    Other types of stickers or velcro to attach the sponsors’ name to a bib have also been suggested, as have a host of more general ideas to promote those helping fund the sport.

    Miranda Collett, from Eventing Scores, has already produced a blank number template containing the correct advertising header and footer, so those with magnetic numbers can save ink and continue to use their reusable numbers.

    Abigail Harris, of Bibnet, told H&H that the company created its product to meet Covid restrictions.

    “In turn [it] proved to be a very cost saving and environmentally friendly product,” she said, adding the video below shows how competitors can comply with the new rules while using their Bibnet number.

    “We believe this rule is for specific events only, and only for BE [not unaffiliated fixtures].”

    She added one question she would like answered is why the rules have changed now, given BE recently announced the launch of its own official reusable bib number.

    “They need to be totally clear as we are not alone in being confused,” she said.

    H&H has contacted BE for comment.

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