The decision to make eventing prize money optional helped give organisers confidence to host competitions in uncertain times after lockdown, but now calls are being made to ensure this situation doesn’t continue indefinitely. H&H asks British Eventing, plus representatives of riders, owners and organisers about the issues involved...
EVENTING prize money is back in the spotlight as stakeholders urge against the rules allowing organisers to waive monetary prizes from becoming the new normal.
Awarding prize money was made optional as part of the resumption protocols to help get the sport back up and running in July.
Mark Phillips raised the topic in H&H (comment, 10 September) questioning how important prize money is at “week in, week out fixtures” when much of the money on offer is won by the same competitors.
“Could giving organisers the option of offering something between pre-Covid prize levels and zero help make organisers’ lives easier and provide owners and riders with cheaper entries?” he asked.
The subject sparked debate, including a strong counter view from the Eventing Riders Association of GB (ERA) as well as support from other stakeholders for prize money to be reinstated.
“We felt it was more important for members to have the opportunity to have competitive runs and we were aware that, for some organisers, the difference between paying prize money and not made the difference between them being able to run or not,” she said.
“Organisers have to display whether or not they are paying prize money on their schedules so that riders can make an informed choice about where to enter.
“We are reviewing the position, in conjunction with our stakeholder groups including ERA, for the 2021 season if Covid restrictions remain in place.”
Entry fees at lower levels vary by about £5 depending on whether prize money is awarded or not.
ERA president Bruce Haskell told H&H ERA is “incredibly grateful” to those involved in getting eventing up and running.
“In the early days, it was evident prize money was one of the things that needed to be put aside to get the sport going for those events that were restricted on numbers,” he said.
He added that while some organisers have been “fantastic” in carrying on offering prize money, others with high demand have not and ERA is very keen that this does not become the new normal.
“The concern is that [we do not want this to] set a precedent for how we want the sport to move forward,” he said.
Event Horse Owners Association chairman Linda Allen told H&H “transparency is key” and getting prize money restored is “important to the financial wellbeing of riders and owners”.
“Owners appreciate there has been great concern on the part of organisers about running events when they didn’t know how many horses would be fit and entered, and when fewer horses can run each day, plus any new restrictions could mean events would be cancelled at short notice,” she said, adding that thanks is due to event organisers and sponsors where prize money has been awarded this season.
“However, some events have run with high entry numbers and appear to be financially viable, and in the future owners trust similarly fortunate organisers will operate with fairness and will award prize money as per pre-virus arrangements.”
British-based five-star New Zealand eventer Jesse Campbell told H&H he is in full support of prize money returning and suggested more discussion between riders and organisers could help both sides understand each other’s challenges — and help to find a solution that helps all sides.
“I think this could also be a good opportunity to try to re-jig it and work out a better way than the [pre-Covid] system,” he said, adding that he understands why the requirement was waived to help those events in need this year.
“I think there is definitely room for improvement.”
British Eventing Organisers Association chairman Jan Cottam told H&H when resumption of eventing was initially considered, organisers were aware new protocols would be needed, all with implementation costs.
“In addition, we would need more personnel to cover the roles required to ensure everyone’s safety. We felt this cover was unlikely to be taken on by volunteers and would therefore be a further expense,” said Mrs Cottam, adding that sponsorship, on which many events depend heavily, is also a “rare commodity” at present.
“An extra complication was having to reduce, by a significant amount, the number of competitors. Initially we were looking at running at just over a third of capacity. We weren’t even sure we would get anyone entering.
“For all these reasons, it was agreed that the awarding of prize money should not be compulsory. A limit of entries that could run in a day was mandated by BE, to ensure everyone remained safe. This reduction of competitors represents a 15% decrease in organisers’ income. BE implemented rule changes to accommodate all these measures.”
Mrs Cottam added that to the sport’s “immense relief” organisers’ pessimism was unfounded and the appetite to compete was huge.
“As most event entries were full, the majority of organisers have chosen to award prize money, although some organisers have reduced their prize fund due to the additional financial burden faced by Covid restrictions,” she said.
H&H 8 October 2020
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The annual three-day event in Co Meath, Ireland, was established in 2006 by the late George Mernagh