Equestrian sport must react to secure its Olympic future [H&H VIP]

  • “Change or be changed”, was the message clearly delivered at the FEI Sports Forum last month (27-28 April) in regards to equestrian sport’s future in the Olympics.

    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has produced an Olympic Agenda 2020 on how to create “attractive, modern, TV- and spectator-friendly sports”.

    The idea is to create a “new generation of fans” and to increase the number of nations taking part in the Games.

    “The IOC is determined to shape the Olympic movement to be fit to “speak to a new generation of fans and athletes,” said an FEI spokesman.

    There is currently no threat to the equestrianism at the Olympics — but they now must fit into a new format. The FEI sports committees have assessed all three disciplines and put together proposals that will now be discussed prior to being voted on at the FEI general assembly in November 2016. The FEI stressed these are only proposals.

    IOC aims

    Is it global enough? Is it simple enough? Is it exciting enough?

    These are the questions each sport has to ask itself.

    “It’s not a just a question of growth, it’s a question of change within the framework,” said the IOC’s sports director Kit McConnell.

    The IOC has reviewed and analysed the programme of sports and events, as well as the number of athletes in all sports, focusing on a revised framework of a total 10,500 athletes and 310 events.

    Previously there was a cap on the number of sports, set at 28, but this has now been removed in order to concentrate on the number of athletes instead.

    One of the IOC’s main aims is gender equality, with the IOC hoping for a 50:50 split between the sexes among participants.

    Among riders at London, 122 (61%) were male, and 77 (39%) were female.

    Another area aimed at is growth — in London, 16 out of 18 equestrian medals were won by Europeans, but the coverage was shown in 70 territories, with 1,000 hours of dedicated broadcast.

    The FEI’s president Ingmar De Vos said he was confident about horse sport’s place at the Games.

    “I’m convinced we are already meeting a lot of the recommendations — gender equality being one of the key assets of our sport,” he said. “But in spite of success we have a quota of only 200 athletes.

    “But the more nations we have [taking part], the more people watch and read about it — so we need rules to be simple [for the public to understand].

    The core elements [of the sport] must remain constant, but the presentation must be changed.”

    He added that “engagement” with a global audience in a “modern, technology-driven society” was key.

    “We need to take a step back and take a hard look at our sport — we know how to look out of the box, such as bringing the Nations Cup to a global stage and making freestyle the dressage final — we need to apply the same boldness here.”

    Dangerous temptation?

    However, suggestions such as removing a team member or drop score have sparked comment from national federations.

    “If there are only three horses, if there is a slight problem with one horse the whole team is stretched,” said Sönke Lautabach of the German Equestrian Federation.

    “The likelihood of being tempted to compete when a horse is not 100% correct will increase — no one can deny this could and will happen. The most important thing is to take care of the horse. We really rely on results from the Olympics when financing the sport in general.”

    However, Mr McConnell countered: “We would never put any athlete or horse at risk to boost numbers.”

    Robert Ridland from the US Equestrian Federation also questioned the loss of a drop score in showjumping.

    “Without this, courses will be compromised — they will become more boring and conventional, more of what you see each week,” he added.

    “Plus with three horses there will be a trickle-down effect — owners will have 25% less chance to compete at the highest level, so might not invest.”

    The FEI jumping committee’s John Madden added: “I’m a traditionalist, I don’t want to throw our sport away — I want to preserve our place in the Olympic family — but we’re in a competitive environment, sorry if you don’t like to hear it, but these are the facts.

    “We [the FEI jumping committe] have an open mind though — it’s clear that there is strong feeling here [at the forum] that there should be four in a team and a decision absolutely has not been made yet.”

    Event riders also found proposals for their sport — such as splitting team and individual competitions — “frustrating and concerning”.

    The coming months

    “We don’t want change for change’s sake: we are aiming for innovation while maintaining integrity,” added Kit McConnell.

    “Rugby sevens, hockey fives, 20-20 cricket — these are all quick-format versions while keeping the sport intact.”

    Mr De Vos added that he is going to consult with the technical committees and ask for “clarification” from the IOC on certain points — including that of the drop score, the definition of events (that is, whether it can be seen as two events, namely team and individual) and whether there is any possibility for extra medals.

    Mr De Vos said he was “confident about the place of equestrianism” in the Olympics.

    “All international federations need to understand they will be judged on different parameters now,” he said.

    “We are living in a more competitive world than ever before, and all sports are trying to get the best out of that world. We need to take our responsibility seriously. We will continue to work very closely with the IOC and go to them with our proposals within the set deadlines.”

    An FEI spokesman told H&H the organisation would continue to “work with the IOC” to “ensure absolute clarity” in all disciplines, but that no decisions would be made this year.

    “The FEI will share its proposals for any changes with the IOC in early 2017. The FEI will consult with the national federations until the general assembly in 2016, when any proposed changes will be voted on,” the FEI spokesman added.


    > Complete separation of team and individual competitions to be run concurrently
    > Athletes can only participate in one of the competitions
    > Team three-star level cross-country with four-star level dressage and jumping tests
    > Teams will be up to three members with no drop score.
    > Competitors from one team to ride one after the other in the three tests
    > For individuals: four-star in all sections


    > Three athletes per team with no drop score
    > 20 teams of three athletes, 15 individuals + 20 reserve horses = current quota of 75
    > Completely separate individual and team competitions, more compact format
    > Qualification according to the current qualification system, but with five additional team quota places from the existing Olympic groups


    > Teams of three athletes, no drop score
    > Grand prix used only for qualification
    > Teams cannot send additional individuals
    > Maximum two individuals per nation