Anna Ross: We must aim for gold in equality *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist on where the sport succeeds in diversity, and where it needs work

    What fun we had at the Hickstead Rotterdam Grand Prix Challenge, which will be broadcast online this weekend (18–19 July). The spectator app makes it all the more enjoyable and means that every armchair judge in the land will doubtless have a G&T and their keyboards at the ready while watching.

    I’m already congratulating the 44 riders who have put themselves “out there” by taking part, and Dane Rawlins’ team who gave us something to enjoy after a drought of top sport.

    “We must do better”

    “Real” shows have now restarted and it’s great to see everyone again, with the bonus that we no longer feel obliged to kiss people we don’t like!

    Joking aside, emotions have run high on social media, fuelled by different interpretations of the Covid-19 regulations and with racism at the forefront of public attention. It’s about time we reminded ourselves of our commonalities. Reactions to recent world events have shocked me and I feel we need to do better when it comes to inclusivity.

    On the whole, I think we do pretty well in dressage by many criteria. We have old and young, male and female, para and able-bodied all competing against each other – and by my reckoning, there are more gay men in the sport than straight.

    Unconscious bias is becoming more of a buzzword in society, but we’ve recognised this and have tried to eliminate it in dressage circles for many years. Halo bias, contrast bias, name bias, conformity bias and affinity bias, to name a few, have all been examined in depth amid attempts to create a fair field of play and transparency in dressage judging.

    Racism is the very epitome of bias and utterly contradictory to the concept of the level playing field in sport. We are passionately opposed to the idea of bias in dressage and are well placed to improve; by embracing the rules and aims of dressage and in agreeing that judges should assess without preconception, our sport is already echoing the wider message of equality.

    “Ethnic minorities need a leg-up”

    Equestrianism has been criticised in the past for being inaccessible. By being completely committed to creating more diversity in the sport, we are better representing the fundamental principles of Olympism. It is not the alleged “boringness”’ of dressage that could eventually lead to it being dropped from the worldwide sporting stage, but instead the perception of it as an elitist sport for rich white people. Just over 18% of people living in the UK are not white and they are under-represented in dressage.

    People from ethnic minorities need a leg-up into our sport. British Equestrian is “on it” and is progressing towards the advanced level of the UK Equality Standard, having achieved the intermediate level in 2016. To achieve this “upgrade”, it must demonstrate significant progress towards increasing diversity.

    To date, we have only had white riders on our championship teams, but one of them, Emile Faurie, is taking positive action to bring riders from more diverse backgrounds into the sport through his charitable foundation.

    To quote Reece McCook, an 18-year-old rider who is passionate about helping other young minority groups into riding with his “Ride Out Racism” campaign: “It’s a start towards building a more diverse equestrian world where black faces are normal, riding in hijab is standard and acceptance is automatic.”

    We in dressage are well placed to lead the way and we should be proud to do so. To be the gold standard when it comes to racial equality, as well as gold medallists in the ring, really would be a win for us all.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 16 July 2020