Mark Todd: boosting the prize pot [H&H VIP]

  • Belton’s organisers have done a great job in growing this event each year to become a really big occasion. The car parks were full and they even had a great crowd on Friday. There was lots going on for spectators and the conditions and courses were very good.

    But why, with all this — and a top-end start fee — is the prize money at the bottom end of the scale?

    I walked back from the showjumping with Christopher Burton, who was lying second in the feature CIC3* class after dressage and showjumping. He asked if I was going to go quick across country.

    “Not really,” I said. “I’m not in a position to win and this is the last prep run for my horses before Badminton.” His response was, “I’ve got a chance of winning, but I’m not racing my horse round for a first prize of £2,500.”

    So the event loses the chance of having a really exciting competition and spectators miss out on the pure spectacle of it.

    For owners and riders who pay the money to get the horses to the event it is time we started getting a percentage of the money made on the gate going into the prize fund. I won £300 for coming sixth in the CIC3* — the equivalent of 15 people coming through the gate. I believe we need to add 20% of the gate to prize money. If a major event makes around £200,000 on the gate and in entry fees, 20% of that is £40,000. That’s worth being competitive for.

    Growing concern

    The FEI has released a document stating that a complete overhaul of the sport of eventing is to be discussed at the FEI Sports Forum in Switzerland. Once again, the FEI has thrown something at us — by which I mean the Event Riders Association and, I presume, the national federations — with very short notice, and very little time to respond.

    From what I understand, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given a brief to all Olympic sports to rethink how each sport is run and presented, to make them “attractive, modern, and TV- and spectator-friendly”. We may well need to change the sport for the Olympics, but that is a one-off competition. The changes proposed in this FEI document would have incredibly far-reaching effects.

    But the sport itself doesn’t need changing. What does is the attitude to how it is run and how it is presented to the public. The FEI should be looking seriously at marketing, promotion and sponsorship of the sport, and there is growing concern that the FEI does not do this.

    Yachting’s Americas Cup got great TV coverage and, with the use of technology, was able to present itself as a really exciting race to watch, simply by addressing how it was presented. There are so many ways eventing could do this — such as cameras on riders, the grooming and support team, using drones to film the action, the use of graphics…

    Something within the sport that does need changing is the way it has to adapt its rules from those set for pure showjumping and dressage. Some of their rules just aren’t applicable to eventing — for example, some of the bitting prohibitions. Clark Montgomery, who won the CIC3* at Belton, was nearly eliminated after the dressage for using a white plastic straight-bar bit that had waves on it. It was a really kind, gentle bit, but he was going to be eliminated for using it because it isn’t allowed under dressage rules. That is ridiculous.

    There are too many rules that aren’t applicable to our sport — yet this is the kind of thing with which the FEI concerns itself.

    Ref: H&H 23 April, 2014