British Eventing CEO Rosie Williams: ‘Running a sport’s governing body is as challenging as competing at five-star’


  • British Eventing’s new CEO Rosie Williams, whose past roles include national sports manager for the Australian Equestrian Federation and CEO of the Rugby Football Union for Women in England, shares her thoughts on problems, priorities and plans

    During the interview process, I was well briefed on the problems British Eventing (BE) has faced, such as the IT project, finances and challenging relationships. The board and chairman Mark Sartori were very open, so I took this job last September with my eyes wide open.

    I’ve been involved in sport for many years and it would be naive to think any national governing body is perfect because they are complex and difficult to manage – one minute you’re a human resources expert, the next you’re speaking to lawyers, then to volunteers or insurers.

    Some of BE’s challenges were on a bigger scale than I expected, but most of them are not unusual in a sporting environment.

    First priorities

    Event abandonment was a major priority last autumn. I think we have landed on a good solution with the new Abandonment Support Fund, which aims to give competitors a goodwill payment of up to 60% of their entry fee if an uninsured event abandons due to weather. It hopefully means everyone wins a little bit, rather than anyone wins a lot.

    Viability of events is a major challenge – there is concern about the perceived shrinking calendar, but if members are not prepared to enter BE events, that’s inevitable.

    When the 2024 list was released, people asked about particular missing fixtures – that’s an eventing-in-Britain issue insofar as the organiser has found their event isn’t viable or for another reason they can’t deliver, but it’s not an issue with BE as an organisation.

    The unaffiliated market is a threat to core BE events, and competition – from either unregulated fixtures or different formats, such as Twenty20 versus test cricket – is something we see in many sports.

    It’s the responsibility of the governing body to provide safe, correctly regulated sport and it’s important we explain what people get for their membership. Eventing is an expensive sport and we’ve got to make sure the product is right.

    A grassroots competitor told me last season that her membership cost half what her numnah cost, which puts the membership fee into perspective.

    Youth programmes are a focus – we’ve worked a lot on the top end, but we need to ensure eventing is an equestrian sport of choice for people, no matter what their talent. We need to make it fun.

    Some things will take time

    We have to get a handle on BE’s governance, our technology and the way we do things, but that will take time. One of my challenges has been pressure to make decisions quickly based on anecdotes – it’s amazing how many people will phone up, but are reluctant to commit to more detail in an email.

    Eventing is many people’s passion; managing sport is my profession. I’m not going to flip-flop between decisions, which means I have to take my time, do research and talk to multiple people rather than acting on one opinion.

    You can’t find a magic solution in four months to a 10-year problem, particularly in an organisation with finite resources. You have to engage people to take them with you and get them to volunteer their time.

    The board have done an incredible job steadying the ship between CEOs. Now my job is to go forward, to change both real problems and negative perceptions of BE. My ask is that everyone comes with us on the journey. Pippa Funnell nailed it when she said you can’t moan from the sidelines, you’ve got to be part of the solution.

    Looking forward

    My first four months at BE have been positive – there are challenges but nothing is insurmountable if everyone is prepared to give a little bit. It’s as difficult to run an organisation as it is to compete at a five-star!

    Eventing is very welcoming and I’m looking forward to next season, to meeting people, hearing their stories, re-engaging riders who have drifted. We’ll be praying to the weather gods a lot – and of course hoping for gold medals in Paris.

    ● What are you looking forward to in eventing this year? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your thoughts published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, in shops from Thursday11 January, 2024

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