‘Riders must be allowed to dream’: hopes for 2021 Europeans take a step forward *H&H Plus*

  • The FEI board asked earlier this month for proposals to hold European Championships next year, as well as the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. H&H finds out what action has been taken towards this and how riders and federations feel about the plans...

    The chance of the 2021 European Championships’ running has taken another step forward.

    The FEI board asked the European Equestrian Federation (EEF) to bring a “realistic proposal” for a reinstated showjumping championships to the board meeting on 21 July. This followed a push from owners and riders in showjumping, and support from national federations, for the Europeans to run next year.

    “The FEI board decided to provide the bids/expressions of interest received through the EEF for these championships to the relevant technical committees and calendar task forces to understand if they want the FEI board to reconsider its decision to cancel these championships,” states the minutes from the meeting.

    While the showjumpers were first out of the gates in terms of lobbying for the championships, the decision applies to dressage, para dressage and eventing.

    There is also support across the disciplines.

    Wayne Channon, secretary general of the International Dressage Riders’ Club, told H&H the organisation is “definitively supportive” of a European Championships in 2021 “even in the light of the Olympic Games being held in the same year”.

    “There are several factors that influence this view; with the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, it is not guaranteed that travel to the other side of the world will be possible,” he said.

    “Even if the Olympics is possible, a back-up of the Europeans is a sensible alternative and could be earlier in the year.

    “The welfare of the horse is above all else; the time between the two needs to be enough for team horses to do both.

    “This is particularly the case in dressage where not all riders have more than one horse at international level. For some riders, it may mean their top horse does not travel to the Olympics having competed at the Europeans, which introduces an interesting dynamic.”

    Bruce Haskell, president of the Eventing Riders Association (ERA), told H&H the association has had “a lot of requests” from European riders and owners to support this, which have been passed to the FEI.

    “It is pretty clear the European riders want this to go ahead if it is at all possible,” he said, adding this will come down to cost, logistics and financial viability if there is a question mark over whether spectators are allowed to attend.

    Mr Haskell said there is “absolutely” strength in depth in the sport to field competitors for two championships in one year, adding it could also serve as an opportunity for up-and-coming nations as well as riders with less championship experience.

    “[Reinstating the Europeans] sends the message that our sport is important and these championships are important within it,” he said, adding that results here play a part in many nations’ funding models which “should not be overlooked”.

    “We are living in a time where technology such as livestreaming and online scoring are becoming part of out sport, with a focus on fans being able to follow while not having to be there, and there is commercial value in that.”

    He added that other sports are capitalising on this technology and equestrianism should do the same if it is to compete for fan interest and new supporters.

    “There is also the question over whether the Olympics will happen next year, so let’s get planning on getting our championships up and running,” he said.

    A spokesman for the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) told H&H it is “actively proposing solutions” for a reinstated 2021 Europeans.

    “Having identified potential organisers, on 11 May the club wrote to ask the FEI president whether the FEI might reconsider holding the European Championships in a different venue in order to have a major event to motivate all stakeholders,” she said.

    “In addition, following a resolution on 5 July, the IJRC board agreed to offer concrete support to organisers.

    “At the beginning some of the largest federations were against offering support but have now changed their minds.

    “As an athletes’ association, the IJRC can only make sporting considerations; it therefore relies on decisions taken by the FEI and the latter will also evaluate political implications in the hope that the plan for the European Championships in 2021 can be realised for the benefit of the sport.”

    The spokesman added that the cancellation of the original Europeans in Budapest, plus the loss of international showjumping shows and the uncertainty surrounding the Nations Cup final in Barcelona is concerning for the future of the sport.

    She added other factors supporting the need for the 2021 Europeans to go ahead include the fact there will only be three combinations to each team in Tokyo leaves room for a “sufficient number of high-level athletes” for the Europeans, that many Olympic riders will have another championship-level horse and the fact the Europeans represents “a unique opportunity for riders, and for those nations that do not have access to major events or to the Olympics”.

    “The IJRC has begun to worry that the sport is not currently offering riders and owners enough reasons to look to the future,”said the spokesman.

    “Young riders, in particular, must be allowed to dream.”

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