Graham Fletcher: I would have sent a team to the Europeans *H&H VIP*

  • The decision not to send a British team to this week’s Europeans has divided opinion.

    Those in agreement with only sending Michael Whitaker and William Whitaker as two individuals would say that team manager Di Lampard has looked at the faults accumulated at our last three “super league” shows. And she’s concluded that with 54 faults in Aachen, 20 at Hickstead and 47 in Dublin, we had no chance of a medal.

    Indeed, this year’s run of form is the worst of any British team in the entire history of British showjumping. So would I have sent a team to the Europeans? The answer is ‘yes’.

    Maybe I always look at the glass as half full rather than half empty… But for a minute, I’d like to take you back to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

    The selection committee in those days always included a couple of riders, of which I was one. I duly went along to a meeting only to find the majority of the committee saying we shouldn’t be sending a team as, in that particular year, we were very short of top horses. Not only did we have very little chance, but their main objection was the expense of flying out a team because at that time there was no World Class money.

    Nevertheless, chef d’equipe Ronnie Massarella was adamant that we should go. I and a couple of others backed him, battling it out with the committee for hours. Eventually, led by General Blacker — the best chairman BS has ever had — it was decided to send a team. And that team duly won a silver Olympic medal.

    My other objection to this year’s policy is that if it’s been decided not to send a team, why send two individuals? Of course they both deserve to go, but my point is they are both two really good team combinations capable of jumping solid rounds. So if you sent another two riders, it only takes one good round from each of them and a medal becomes a possibility.

    Maybe I just don’t like waving the white flag, especially when I see far lesser nations than ours fielding full teams.

    Not an individual sport

    I’ve spoken to the British riders I think should have gone to the Europeans, and they’ve all said they’d have loved the chance and the experience. Interestingly, they all pointed to a lack of team unity this year.

    Anybody who thinks that ours is an individual sport and that team bonding is an irrelevance should look no further than the recent youth Europeans. Three British teams got two golds and a silver plus individual silver for Harry Charles and bronze medals to Amy Inglis and Olli Fletcher.

    These were the best team results for Team GB ever. Full marks to chefs Clare Whitaker and Tony Newbery, who were both exceptional.

    The team spirit and enthusiasm was outstanding. All the riders got behind whichever of the three British teams was competing; they all watched every single round of every other team.

    And I can tell World Class that their funding of the youth teams this year has been pitiful. Maybe they should look into and improve how some of their funding is spent too?

    When the successful young team riders had the backing of their team-mates and the belief of the management, they upped their game. That’s worth a lot more than any sports psychologist can do on a one-to-one session. Anybody who disagrees with that hasn’t ridden on a British team!

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 August 2017