Final equestrian preparations for Tokyo Olympics are well under way *H&H Plus*

  • Preparations for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were covered during the FEI Sport Forum this week. H&H was in the session, and finds out what is on the cards for federations, riders, support personnel and spectators

    FINAL preparations are full steam ahead for the postponed Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as organisers and national federations negotiate the continued challenges posed by the pandemic.

    The update came during the 2021 FEI Sport Forum (1–2 June) and included news on physical changes to the event sites since the 2019 test event, horse travel arrangements and contingency plans to delay competition in the case of extreme weather. There was also news on the latest Covid protocols, with questions remaining over certain logistics.

    “The final warm-up has been installed, additional spectator seating added and the gallops footing [at Bajikoen Equestrian Park], which many commented on perhaps not being quite up to the standard expected during the test event, has been re-laid,” said FEI director of games operations Tim Hadaway.

    “The seating is temporary and will be removed post-Games as the equestrian park reverts to its legacy mode, as a Japan Racing Authority training venue and hopefully state-of-the-art competition venue for many accredited equestrian competitions to come.”

    Mr Hadaway added that the cross-country course at Sea Forest has been shortened, which means there is now a new start area.

    “A second [stabling] tent … and additional cooling facilities have been put in place, not only by the stables, in the warm-up area, but also crucially up by the cross-country finish,” he said, adding that the warm-up has also been extended with a new sand arena.

    There is also a built-in 24-hour “contingency period” following the scheduled competition times to allow for any postponement, such as extreme weather.

    Mr Hadaway explained we are now within the 60-day period ahead of the Games, so horses’ movements are somewhat restricted and must be recorded prior to entering pre-export quarantine. Horses from each discipline will enter quarantine at the same time; this will be in Aachen for most.

    Two chartered flights per discipline will take the horses from Liège Airport, Belgium, to Tokyo, with the exception of a small number that will fly from Australia.

    “There are some challenges now with departures from the UK to Germany as the result of more recent Covid restrictions,” said Mr Hadaway. “We would assure you that these are being addressed at the very highest level to try to find the appropriate solutions, and [horse transport company] Peden Bloodstock is again in regular contact with those of you who that affects.”

    Strict Covid protocols are in place for all travelling to Tokyo, involving frequent testing and a ban on using public transport. More details are expected to follow on the logistics of getting essential support teams to and from the venues, given the public transport ban. Athletes have to be supervised for Covid tests and the FEI said it had “informal confirmation” this could be done on site at their venues.

    No international spectators will be at the Games and a decision on whether there will be domestic crowds is expected on 30 June. There is also stringent pre-departure testing as well as apps monitoring location, health and close contacts, and the FEI is monitoring what to do should essential officials or athletes test positive during the competition.

    “There has been a big debate on horse owners and the FEI has made a very strong request to the IOC [International Olympic Committee] to try to get a status quo within the horse owners,” said FEI director of Olympic Games Catrin Norinder.

    “However, as you all know, this is an NOC [national Olympic committee] accreditation and we are still awaiting confirmation from the IOC on exactly what the final status is.”

    Catherine Bollon, FEI athlete services and human anti-doping advisor, and FEI veterinary director Göran Åkerström stressed the need to prepare humans and horses for the Tokyo heat and humidity.

    “Heat and humidity combined can affect your performance and in some instances, when not well managed, your health,” said Ms Bollon, adding acclimatisation and developing a cooling and hydration routine is vital.

    “None of this is rocket science, but it needs to be done well in advance, so please start preparing now.”

    She also urged people not to be caught out by Japan’s medicine laws or the Olympic “therapeutic use exemption” rules.

    “Equestrian sport, as far as athletes are concerned, is considered as low risk, but this creates a risk of doping simply because people don’t take it seriously. So don’t arrive at the Games uneducated,” she said.

    You might also be interested in…