Graham Fletcher: A weak and absurd decision *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s showjumping columnist berates the loss of the youth championships in Portugal while international shows go ahead under Covid-19 protocols with limited attendance

    Common sense has been in short supply these past months, so it was good to hear former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith say with statesmanlike clarity that the country should get back to work and youngsters back to school.

    This virus could be with us for years to come, and we must learn to live with it, he said, while acknowledging that the old and unhealthy remain susceptible and youth virtually untouched. If only the FEI could have used such intelligent thinking before cancelling the youth Europeans.

    These championships were to be held at Vilamoura in the Portuguese Algarve, an area with few Covid-19 cases. Organiser António Moura had even postponed until the end of August, in line with school holidays.

    The week the Europeans were called off saw seven international shows running under Covid-19 protocols with limited attendance. So, what’s the difference?

    Of course, it’s far easier to cancel as you can’t be proved wrong. But for the FEI to deny the young the chance to compete at this level – especially when for some it was their last chance – was a weak and absurd decision.

    “Bordering on the ludicrous”

    Inconsistencies abound as we emerge from lockdown. When Liverpool won the Premier League title, thousands gathered to celebrate – yet PC Plod chose to “let it be”.

    Meanwhile with brides and grooms unable to walk arm-in-arm down the aisle or kiss at the altar, I wouldn’t be surprised if the constabulary went knocking on the honeymoon suite door to check the newly weds were social distancing…

    So it is with shows. Although it’s great to be competing, some discrepancies are bordering on ludicrous.

    We’ve been to Rectory Farm a couple of times; it’s really well run, immaculately clean and strictly adheres to Government guidance. Under new rules, they have to wait for 60 seconds to elapse between one horse leaving the ring and the next one coming in.

    I’m sure it’s done with the best intentions, but it’s so time-consuming that entries are being turned away. Yet, when you watch livestreams from international shows, they all use the conventional overlap of competitors entering and leaving the ring.

    Anyway, it’s virtually impossible to come within two metres of another horse and rider. If you do it once, you’ll definitely get a telling off the next time!

    The mass exodus has started

    Several centres tried to accommodate extra entries by putting on additional show days, only to be refused permission by British Showjumping (BS). I put it to chief executive Iain Graham that this was a ridiculous state of affairs when everybody wants to get out jumping.

    He said that it wasn’t a BS decision; it was a rule stemming from centres asking for geographical exclusivity. If a show is running a 1.40m class, another centre within a two-hour drive can’t do likewise on the same day.

    Well, in extraordinary times, an overhaul is needed – and quickly. In any case, many more want to jump 1.30m and 1.40m classes now than when that rule was imposed.

    Let’s loosen the restrictions and allow market forces to come into play. Last week, for example, our yard had nowhere nearby to jump, yet I knew of shows wanting to run. Centres worried about losing money can always fall back on the “one prize per five starters rule” and cancel classes that aren’t viable.

    Show venues should be encouraged to compete with one another. As Sir Phil Harris says, the best place to open a carpet shop is in the same street as another one. Petty rules don’t apply elsewhere in Europe. Belgium might have three international shows running in the same week.

    This year more than ever, I want to support UK shows. But like the rest of Britain’s professional yards, we don’t see anything to keep us here. The mass exodus is already starting.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 16 July 2020