‘These are not normal shows’: showjumping boss reveals how sport is emerging from lockdown *H&H Plus*

  • H&H showjumping editor Jennifer Donald spoke to British Showjumping chief executive Iain Graham to find out about the work being carried out towards the full resumption of sport

    British Showjumping (BS) has been one of the first equestrian sports to return competitively as the country slowly emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.

    Behind the scenes at the sport’s governing body, a skeleton staff has made mammoth efforts, through ever-changing government guidelines, to ensure members are back out enjoying the sport. The path ahead remains long, but in the meantime competitors are familiarising themselves with this new look show circuit.

    “These are not normal shows, these are shows run under restrictions, and organisers and members just need to remember that when they rock into their familiar venue,” BS chief executive Iain Graham told H&H.

    “But we’ve been fortunate how restrictions have lifted for our sport and that we’ve had organisers who have been willing to work under the new restrictions.”

    After the success of training shows — the first phase of reopening post-lockdown — lower level competitions have been running since the middle of June.

    “There were plans A and B but I think we’re halfway through the alphabet now from that original planning,” Mr Graham said.

    “There are also plans in a drawer that we hope will come out in July and August, but there are other plans we may not see till next year.

    “But we’d had a good 10 days of training shows working with feedback from organisers, competitors and officials about their experience at those training shows and that was why we managed to get that approval for it to be rolled out into a competition environment.”

    Mr Graham has steered showjumping out of lockdown under the government’s maximum of six people meeting rule, rather than through elite sport guidance.

    “We realised that [the elite route] was only available for a very restricted number of athletes in this country,” he said. “We also saw the costs for premier league football and for horse racing and, to run an elite jumping competition, the costs would have been significant for whoever was organising it.”

    Throughout lockdown there has been constant dialogue between BS and organisers, national funding bodies, British Equestrian (BEF) and the other equestrian sports to ensure alignment — although varying restrictions in each of the home countries adds another challenge.

    “We need to show that we are respecting the guidance that is out there about numbers, minimising travel and contact, maintaining social distancing and doing all we can to stop the spread of the virus, while starting to enjoy our horses again,” Mr Graham said.

    “We’re helping the venues do this, so we’re not charging them affiliation fees for the shows they’re running in this period and we’ve made available free tickets for people who aren’t current members or their horses aren’t registered. People need to get those tickets in advance so we have their contact details if there’s a requirement to track and trace.

    “Although we weren’t recording results from the training shows, we were asking for those results to be submitted using the judging system so that we had the record on our database of who had been there.”

    “We had lots of discussions around the practicalities,” Mr Graham added. “The area of particular concern was in the warm-up, and one of the areas the government was very particular about was the sharing of equipment and having minimal contact with pieces of equipment, hands touching and so on. That’s why we came down with one person in the warm-up arena, overseeing the practice obstacles, and then being able to operate with a group of five riders, putting them through in batches of five so they weren’t meeting more than six people in that group.

    “There were some organisers that felt that restriction just wasn’t viable for their venues and equally we have some larger venues who have staff furloughed and due to the uncertainties around the resumption and how July might look, they were reluctant to bring staff back.

    “The messaging still coming out of government and the medical officers advising there is that we should expect a second wave or spike. So what we’ve been relaying to our organisers is just to make sure that they are aware that in the future we’ve been told to be ready to adapt very quickly to change and just to be cautious when making financial decisions.”

    BS is waiting to hear whether the latest government easing of regulations may provide more leeway for shows from 4 July or for higher level competitions to restart and whether progress may be made in Scotland and Wales. lnternational shows have already restarted on the Continent, however, and some British riders are jumping overseas again.

    “The message that we’ve given them is to be aware of changes happening very quickly in countries – the country they’ve gone to may be all right but they may have travelled through two or three countries to get there,” says Iain. “Things could change very quickly so they just need to make sure they’ve got the correct insurance and medical cover for everyone who’s away with them.

    “For higher level competitions in this country, we are very much restricted by the numbers that can be together. That’s where we’re waiting for the government advice. When the hospitality sector is allowed to get going in July, that should help us get going a bit more.

    “Reducing the two-metre rule will certainly help equestrian centres with running competitions, as long as we see a relaxtion in numbers as well because the maximum of six really does mean there’s not a huge throughput in an hour of horses in the arena. So that’s why at the moment we’re helping support those venues — compared with their usual business model, they’re running on a very reduced throughput.”

    It’s the million-dollar question, but are we likely to see the return of bigger shows, including HOYS, this year?

    “I know the members are desperate to hear what’s happening with various national championships and finals and at the moment we’re leaving everything in the calendar until we hear that we can’t run them,” Mr Graham said.

    “It doesn’t give anyone an answer but hopefully we’ve shown we’re doing all we can to give members the opportunities as soon as we can. The jumping members need to be really appreciative that their sport is one that can be very flexible and has had organisers that can put things on with the very reduced numbers.”

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