Graham Fletcher: How to reinvent the Nations Cup *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s showjumping columnist on how Nations Cups could be made more entertaining

    International shows in Europe are being deluged with entries, with between 100 and 200 starters across the board from 1.10m competitions to the 1.50m ranking classes.

    No international shows are happening in England, while Scotland and Wales have their hands tied by their respective governments’ agendas.

    There are not even any international shows on the horizon in England, and that’s especially disappointing when vast numbers of riders have left these shores to compete abroad. I said previously that there would be an exodus. At the moment, it’s looking more like mass emigration.

    Every score should count

    One time when I was watching the Hickstead Nations Cup, it started with a large and enthusiastic crowd. But it soon turned into another bad day for the Brits, who haven’t won here since 2010.

    By half time, there was little chance of a good result for the home side. Spectators drifted away, and by the time the class had finished, very few were left to hear the winning team’s national anthem.

    There was no atmosphere; it was disastrous for the TV coverage with the commentators doing their best but so obviously wishing it was all over. At that moment, I decided the Nations Cup needed an injection of drama to bring it into line with modern sport.

    My idea, which I mentioned to Nick Skelton, was that every score should count – but with only three riders from each team going into the second round. There would then be extra theatre as each chef d’equipe had to decide which rider to drop.

    Skelly said he liked it and suggested I email my idea to the International Jumping Riders Club. It included another idea in the event of a jump-off – that each team’s three riders should go head-to-head, penalty shoot-out style. The winning team would be the one to come out best of the three pairings.

    Imagine the pressure if Scott Brash was up against Christian Ahlmann in the last round to win the gold medal… It would be quite a contrast with the current system of four to jump, three to count – and needing to be a member of Mensa just to keep track of the scores.

    Although the FEI hasn’t changed the format of their team competitions, the Olympic committee did change the team rules in time for the Tokyo Games where only three riders will be allowed in each team with all to count.

    It was interesting to hear international riders’ opinions about this. Some of the more experienced didn’t like it, but the younger ones embraced it. Martin Fuchs, for example, thought it was a great idea. He cited last year’s Global Champions League final, where all scores counted, as the most exciting team competition he’s ever ridden in.

    The FEI really must review this great competition and bring the Nations Cup into this century. If they want a compromise, then have four riders per team in the first round. That would give young riders a chance to be added to a team for experience. But the second half should be all about competitive tension.

    TV coverage could start with a round-up of thrills and spills from the first round, then go live for the second. This final round would last approximately one hour, well within the average viewer’s attention span.

    Importantly, it would sustain interest until the last rider had jumped, making for great TV – unlike the bore it can become.

    The FEI does a great job with horse welfare and improving the standard of shows, but I always get the feeling that entertaining the watching public isn’t hugely important to them.

    No one has ever understood the need to please spectators better than Harvey Smith. I remember him explaining it to someone like this: “There’s show business and there’s showjumping. Both have the word ‘show’ in them because it’s about entertaining the public and putting bums on seats.”

    The sport should never forget that. I certainly agree with Harvey one million percent.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 13 August 2020

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