Andy Austin: ‘Elite sport needs vision, not admin’ *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I have had support across the board in response to my previous piece in H&H regarding the lack of a team at the European Championships.

    I was critical of performance manager Di Lampard, but the powers-that-be have decided she is the right person for the job. She has confirmed Great Britain will be sending a team to WEG, so it’s now up to owners and riders to support her.

    But it does lead me to ask, what is British Showjumping (BS) for? The bottom end of the sport is well looked after, but they appear to have no idea how much damage has been done to the top end — largely since the combined rankings list was ditched in favour of purely international results, making national shows pretty much irrelevant for aspiring riders.

    If you win Great Yorkshire’s Cock o’the North, one of the toughest classes in this country, you win a few grand, but it won’t help you get into Olympia or Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).

    The county circuit offers few rewards, other than qualification for the Queen’s Cup at the Royal International or a chance to jump in the International Stairway final and a few points towards the largely irrelevant gold league. It’s totally disjointed and devalued.

    Going abroad

    So it’s no surprise so few young riders follow it — I’d guess the average age at county shows these days is 40 to 50. Jess Mendoza and William Whitaker, two of our best young riders, have moved abroad and more aspiring talent is following suit. I’m not blaming them — the selectors have ignored riders on the county circuit.

    What many people don’t realise is that competing at overseas tours costs a fortune, which is fine if you have wealthy owners or parents, but what about the talented riders who don’t? This is why I have an issue with Di Lampard’s strategy for prospective 2018 team members that they must compete on the Spanish Sunshine Tour in the spring.

    If these conditions were in place 30 or 40 years ago, the likes of John and Michael Whitaker, Peter Charles or Tim Stockdale would never have come through. Can you imagine Ted Edgar paying £20k for a 20-year-old Nick Skelton to go off to Spain for six weeks? Those riders cut their teeth on the national circuit, where they could qualify for HOYS and Olympia, be picked for teams and earn enough money to buy diesel for the next show, yet still win on the international stage.

    Change strategy

    That stepping stone on home soil is no longer there — BS seems to have given up on having decent shows in this country and show centres are struggling to afford to put on 1.40m, grand prix or even CSI2/3* shows.

    A sizeable amount of government funding goes into equestrian colleges, such as Hartpury, and we now have several multimillion pound centres with amazing facilities that run little more than the odd show now and again. BS should be lobbying the government to make these colleges duty-bound to support the elite and run higher level shows as part of their funding remit.

    We need prize money, grants for show centres and to get rid of business rates. The government needs to realise that jumping is a healthy sport and it’s not elitist. Does Iain Graham wake up in the morning thinking about this? I doubt it, he just wants to make sure the admin is done. It’s time we had some vision.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 4 January 2018