Harry Meade: ‘Algeria, Andora and Azerbaijan will vote on a sport in which they have no interest’ *H&H VIP*

  • Burnham Market kicked off the new Tri-Star grand slam series, in which the winner will take home a £50,000 bonus. The series will encourage riders to prioritise the events that may previously have been used as a stepping stone for a CCI.

    North Norfolk is not exactly the epicentre of the eventing map, but every year riders make the long trek eastwards because of the quality of the event. Alec Lochore, who runs Burnham Market, grew up at Burgie in the north of Scotland, where his parents enticed the eventing community every June. Their philosophy was simple: the further off the beaten track you are, the better the event has to be in order to attract entries.

    Seemingly deaf ears

    The proposed changes to the sport’s format have been touched on by columnists Mark Todd and Mark Phillips, but are worth expanding on as this is a pivotal moment in the sport’s future.

    All Olympic sports have been asked by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to assess themselves. Other sports have their own problems: athletics is in turmoil in the wake of widespread doping allegations with talk of resetting world records; cycling has been fire-fighting for the past 10 years; and tennis has been damaged by allegations of match-fixing.

    The national federations of the main eventing countries want to examine the future direction of the discipline with a coordinated consultation between riders, owners, organisers, trainers, officials and media outlets across the world.

    Let us be clear, we have not been told we need to change; we have been asked to look at ourselves with the emphasis on self-improvement in order to maximise appeal to Olympic audiences, with equal opportunity and global participation.

    The outcome of this consultation is a consensus that eventing has undergone major changes over recent decades, primarily with the removal of the long format, and that the format does not need further change. There is also agreement that it has certain advantages over other sports, with men and women competing against each other, thus providing unparalleled equal opportunity.

    There are recognised issues with the limited number of nationalities represented at top level, but there is an acknowledgement that this has to be balanced against safety. A comparable sport is downhill skiing, which is dominated by the US and alpine nations, but sending skiers from sub-Saharan countries out of the start gate is not going to improve the competition or the “pictures” — a word the FEI is very keen on.

    There is an agreement that emphasis should be on the presentation of the sport broadly as we know it to wider audiences.

    The FEI Eventing Committee went into their meeting carrying the hopes and expectations of the eventing community, but emerged having supposedly voted against the major points that had been discussed. Unsurprisingly, questions have arisen over whether the sport is being best represented.

    There is now talk of changing the World Equestrian Games to the controversial Olympic proposal. Considering this came about to appease the IOC, why change the world championships, the only true four-star championships we have, which is nothing to do with the IOC? One has to ask whether the IOC pressure is a smoke-screen for changes in the sport that is coming from the FEI.

    But can the sport be changed against the will of the eventing nations? Yes. After further consultation the final proposals from the Eventing Committee will be put to the FEI Bureau, which represents all equestrian sport. Their changes require ratification from all the national federations, and with Algeria, Andora and Azerbaijan voting on a sport in which they have no interest, there is a risk that the FEI Bureau can gain approval on whatever it wants. In short, this needs to be under control before it leaves the Eventing Committee. I hope they will see sense and not roll the dice.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 7 April 2016