Keeping horse sport viable for when we can compete again *H&H Plus*

  • As calls are made by some riders for refunds and membership extensions, H&H finds out what the governing bodies of the Olympic equestrian sports say is needed in order to restart sport promptly after the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted...

    Governing bodies are looking at all options to ensure sport gets under way as soon as possible – but have reminded riders they are funded by membership.

    Some members have debated whether British Dressage (BD), British Eventing (BE) and British Showjumping (BS) should freeze or refund fees while no competitions can be held.

    But like most sport governing bodies, ours need income from membership, horse registrations, events and commercial activity, all of which have been hit.

    “There are essential costs to running our sport,” BE CEO Jude Matthews told H&H. “We’re reliant on membership and horse registrations, and when those dry up, we have no income.”

    Ms Matthews said BE has been hit by a “perfect storm” as bad weather caused a number of abandonments, and many people had not yet registered.

    Asked what effect refunding members would have, she said: “It would be very challenging financially.”

    BE has furloughed staff and stopped non-essential spending, but bills such as insurance and office costs still have to be met.

    Other member benefits such as insurance are still valid, and the team is exploring all options in terms of membership.

    “Until we know when the sport will resume, we can’t give a definitive answer regarding what we will be able to do,” she said. “But we want to try to reward people who have been loyal. We’ve had fantastic support, with some people calling to take up membership to show support for the sport, and others telling us they wouldn’t take refunds even if they were offered. We appreciate it’s a difficult time for everyone and we do appreciate the support.”

    BE has been working with events that can run at short notice, and believes the first competitions could run two weeks after movement restrictions are lifted. It is also appealing to its insurer over an abandonment claim, telling members it is doing all it can to secure refunds.

    BS CEO Iain Graham told H&H BS has also had members renewing in the past two weeks, has ongoing bills to pay, and has furloughed staff.

    “The majority of the Olympic disciplines’ funding comes from membership and horse registration, and we try to run the organisation as efficiently as possible,” he said. “If we didn’t have that income, it would have a significant impact.”

    Mr Graham said while no one knows when or how movement restrictions will be lifted, there could be a phased approach, such as allowing training activity initially followed by competition, but with protective measures, which may cost money.

    “We will try to see what BS can do to minimise those costs and help organisers cope,” he said. “Any such measures could have an impact on centres’ viability.”

    Mr Graham added that fees paid for cancelled shows have been credited to centres’ accounts, to be used for winter date bookings, and should this credit be insufficient, invoices will be held until sport resumes.

    “That’s the first step in what we’re doing to help our organisers provide a sport for our members once we’re up and running,” he said.

    “We don’t know what the government directive will say or when, but once we’re able to run safely, we want to make sure we can. When we do get to that point, we’ll be reviewing what we can do for everyone. It’s a difficult time for our members, and everyone involved in the sport.”

    BD chief executive Jason Brautigam said all BD’s actions had member welfare in mind.

    “We can only do so much, with limited resources, and my duty is to safeguard the future as much as possible, to protect jobs and ensure we all have a sport to return to,” he said.

    “A three-month suspension of membership fees and horse registrations would cost BD well over £500,000. This is before the substantial lost income from competitions, training, events, starter levies and sponsorship.

    “When we don’t know what the long-term implications will be, it would be wholly irresponsible for us to make that move at present. [Our] cash reserves would disappear in under 12 months without prudent planning.

    “We are committed to ensuring appropriate concessions for members are made but we are not at that stage yet. We acknowledge the financial difficulty everyone is facing and I can assure you we’re all in this together.

    “We are reviewing this weekly, and will make further announcements when the longer-term impact becomes clearer.”

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