Harry Meade: Rule change makes a farce of our scoring *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    We’ve made a rod for our own backs in eventing with the rule awarding 50 penalties for horses missing a flag across country.

    Before 2017, combinations were eliminated for this infringement, but that was such a strong penalty that five times out of six officials gave competitors the benefit of the doubt. Elimination was only enforced in clear-cut cases.

    Since the rule change, officials have consistently been far more likely to award faults than they were to eliminate a pair under the old rule, probably because psychologically 50 penalties feels like a middle-of-the-road option compared to elimination. But 50 penalties puts a rider entirely out of contention and as such, it’s just as bad as elimination.

    At Luhmühlen, four riders were penalised in this way, including two from the top five placings. The four-star finished at lunchtime but by the evening there were still no results due to the reviews, the public had stopped following the leaderboard and the press couldn’t file their reports.

    In the latest proposed rule changes, the FEI suggests 15 penalties for “missing a flag with the horse clearly negotiating the obstacle”. This doesn’t deal with the issue — it is equivalent to four showjumps down, so pairs will still be out of contention.

    Before 2017, this wasn’t a problem. The only reason for swapping elimination for 50 penalties was to let teams complete the Olympics under the new three-per-team format.

    However, the new Olympic rules will award 200 penalties for a cross-country non-completion, so a team can still get a finishing score without the flag rule.

    This flag rule is bad for everyone involved, from fence judges to officials, riders, the public and the media. It has made a farce of the scoring system and brought with it no benefit. We should stop tweaking it and go back to the original rule which eliminates anyone who clearly misses a flag, with the rest awarded a clear. This is in the spirit of the sport and keeps our already complex scoring system simpler.

    Think before you dig

    Among the proposed new FEI requirements for five-star (existing four-star) events is that an all-weather dressage arena is “strongly recommended”. Instead, top-level events should have to provide either an artificial or a grass arena with appropriate drainage and irrigation to allow optimum conditions even in bad weather.

    Badminton this year suffered torrential rain right up until the dressage, but the arena stayed immaculate. This is because Badminton has an all-weather grass arena. The team have dug up the turf, laid stone and put the turf back on top, so water drains through. This is the best of both worlds — the “give” and spring of a natural surface, with the drainage of an artificial one.

    Artificial surfaces are ideal for temporary venues such as Global Champions Tour shows or venues on inappropriate soil, but the very best surfaces are all-weather grass arenas such as at Aachen and Hickstead, with their ideal soil type and specialised drainage systems. An artificial surface is only ever an imperfect mimic of the best turf.

    Of the world’s six four-star events, half have grass arenas. I’m not familiar with Adelaide, but Badminton and Burghley are on the best turf anywhere in the world. It would be madness to install an artificial surface; instead a fraction of the money could, be invested to ensure optimum grass going.

    At one time, Wimbledon was under pressure to put down hard courts, but now its grass courts are the most hallowed of all. Grass arenas are characteristic of eventing and it’d be a crime to dig them up.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 19 July 2018