Mark Phillips: When will common sense prevail with qualifications? *H&H VIP*

  • I was interested to read that the FEI is talking to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the Olympic showjumping qualification process.

    This is particularly pertinent with regards to Belgium and Ireland, two strong countries in the Nations Cup this year, who have not qualified. Common sense says both nations should be at the Games, but everyone understands it’s too late to make changes for Rio next year.

    In a similar vein I’ve been perturbed for some time by the eventing system, especially when Australia and/or New Zealand have a bad World Equestrian Games.

    They then have to qualify for the Olympics against Japan, South Africa and others at a CCI3* — the Asia Pacific Championships — the following year.

    Again, common sense tells us that both Australia and New Zealand should be at the Olympics. To ask them to qualify against the developing world is a real “own goal” as we seek greater global participation.

    This year’s qualifier was at Boekelo, which is always a softer CCI3* because of Holland’s horse welfare concerns. So much for the FEI’s cries for high and consistent standards of qualifications.

    Because New Zealand, arguably the world’s number two nation behind Germany, were seeking qualification at Boekelo, other countries did not even bother to go to the expense of attending.

    If New Zealand or any other country have four riders high enough up the Olympic athlete rankings they can field an Olympic team anyway — almost a certainty for New Zealand had they not qualified at Boekelo — so why make them do this one-sided process and kill off the aspirations of the developing nations?

    The same principle could be used at the Pan Ams, where too often the US and Canada snuff out South American hopes, although in 2016 Brazil will compete as host nation.

    This conundrum needs to be on the Olympic 2020 Agenda.

    What will we sacrifice?

    Mark Todd recently made his frequent plea for more prize-money, maybe from a percentage of the gate, and enviously eyed Scott Brash’s $1m Rolex Grand Slam.

    Sadly, we are looking at apples and oranges. It is really difficult to make significant money out of running horse trials. Badminton and Burghley manage it, but do most people pay for the sport or the social side and shopping?

    All events are in the entertainment business. Showjumping is cheaper to stage, easier to televise — attracting more sponsors — and spectators get a result every two hours or so.

    In eventing we are slowly moving in a positive direction. Piggy French said my course at Kelsall flowed well, but was twisty. Yes, because the whole objective is to make it spectator friendly, so most jumps can be seen from one spot.

    One of the most successful events I was involved in this year was the advanced-level showcase at Wellington in Florida, which offered compact viewing, was cheap to televise and gave a quick result.

    We have to assess how we can make eventing easier to understand, cheaper to stage and more TV and spectator friendly — questions the IOC has put to us. We can only achieve this on smaller acreages — if we go this way, we may see more prize-money. But it will mean a different sport to the one we know in the traditional British parkland.

    Ref: Horse & Houd; 15 October 2015