Graham Fletcher: FEI needs to consider a change [H&H VIP]

  • Every sports fan knows that Lewis Hamilton is the new Formula 1 world champion. But what I found really interesting was the politics surrounding the final race in Abu Dhabi.

    Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, being the showman he is, decided to award double points for what was the 2014 championship’s final round. The purists hated it, pointing out that since Lewis had been the best driver throughout the year, he shouldn’t potentially have the title snatched from him as a result of a publicity stunt.

    But Bernie stuck to his guns, and instead of the race being a boring procession, the media and general public became enthralled.

    All that reminds me very much of the current state of our “super league” Nations Cups. Some might be captivating to the end; but mostly they’re over before the fourth-round riders even go into the ring.

    Look at Hickstead’s Nations Cup round this year. A really good crowd was watching at the start, but, due to the disappointment of a British team well beaten by half-time, there was just about a man and a dog left in the stands by the time the class finished. It was bad for spectators and shocking for the television coverage.

    Taking the best three scores of a team of four has no place in modern sport; it totally lacks appeal to a newer audience. Imagine if in cricket they decided to use the seven best batting scores, with the other four not counting. It would be bafflingly stupid; and that’s exactly how today’s audiences regard the majority of Nations Cups.

    Saving a ‘sinking ship’

    Spectators want drama and excitement, which is why most sports have been tweaked as their respective governing bodies realise this. With the Global Champions Tour (GCT) becoming more and more prominent, the FEI needs to look into ways of reviving what has become a sinking ship of a team competition.

    For Olympic, world and European championships, I’d keep the two rounds but with all scores to count. However for normal Nations Cups I’ve come up with a more radical idea, which Nick Skelton and Scott Brash both say they really like.

    And that is to use all five team riders, jumping one round each with all scores to count. If the scores are equal at the end, there would be a jump-off — but not in the current confusing format of adding scores and times together. Instead, riders would go head-to-head in a sudden-death penalty shoot-out type contest.

    Such a system might not be to the purists’ liking, but something along those lines has two advantages in addition to audience appeal.

    The first is to help address the number of horse injuries we’re seeing. At super league shows, horses normally do two big jumping rounds on the Friday for the team and then an enormous grand prix on the Sunday; and that’s putting a great deal of strain on them. GCT shows are less exacting on horses.

    Another advantage is that if all scores count, the Nations Cup courses needn’t be quite as demanding and testing as they are now. Therefore spectators would get the chance to see the top riders more often, as they wouldn’t have to keep using their best horses every time.

    Whatever happens, the FEI must consider if it’s time for change. And although I’m pretty sure they won’t adopt anything as drastic as my idea, I know that at Hickstead this year I could have kept a lot more bums on seats.

    Seasons greetings

    I’m sure right now many of you are thinking about how “Christmas starts with Olympia”, and making your plans to get there and enjoy this tremendous show.

    This year our yard will be represented by Alfie Bradstock riding Caicos, a horse I bought last year, in the under-23 British Championship. Alfie’s gone really well this season and Caicos heads the under-23 leaderboard, so it would be a great start to our Christmas if his form can continue on Saturday. After that, it will be “let the festivities begin” for us.

    So I wish you all a very happy Christmas with friends and family — and leave you with the words of the late American comedian George Burns.

    “Happiness at Christmas time is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family — in another city!”

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 11 December 2014