Graham Fletcher: We need to show the inside story *H&H Plus*


  • A question I’m still continually asked is why there’s virtually no coverage of showjumping on mainstream television – especially when it was so popular in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

    Due to the enthusiasm for football, other sports have had air time reduced. But I really do think that British Showjumping (BS) must put more resources into the promotion of our sport.

    For years I’ve been at odds with the present administration over it. They maintain that BS is a body for all members, and from a democratic point of view, I agree that it’s run very fairly.

    But having lived through those earlier days of extensive TV coverage, I know just how much effort a number of astute businessmen and promoters put in to make showjumping so popular with the public and appealing to broadcasters.

    Like me, they believed the more successful a sport is at the top, the more everyone stands to benefit. So instead of just looking internally at showjumping, we need to acknowledge what a major player it’s become in global sport.

    In normal times, top grands prix are watched by sold-out crowds every week. And surely, when riders are competing for millions of euros in front of audiences of tens-of-thousands at Aachen, Spruce Meadows and Geneva, it’s time to wonder why our sport is no longer mentioned in our national press.

    It’s a shocker because showjumping has a good profile in most other European countries. Peder Fredricson won the Swedish version of Sports Personality of the Year for two years running in 2016 and 2017, whereas in Britain, our sport’s last recipient was David Broome in 1960.

    Forward thinking

    We need to invite sports editors and other media to our best competitions, like the Global Champions Tour in Chelsea or the King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead, to show them the inside story.

    They need to see the stables, the collecting ring and meet stars like Scott Brash and Ben Maher. Then journalists can see for themselves what fit, dedicated sportsmen they are – rather than wealthy individuals as is usually perceived.

    The person we should put in charge of making these introductions is Nick Skelton. A forward-thinker and the ultimate perfectionist, he’s also the present Olympic champion.

    In fact, despite the massive story surrounding his fantastic gold medal win four years ago, I don’t think it’s been capitalised upon anywhere nearly enough. And speaking to Skelly recently, he totally agrees.

    When it comes to gaining more overall media attention, I can’t think of a better advocate for showjumping than Clare Balding – if she would be prepared to take it on. With those two leading the charge, we’d really start to go places.

    And there’s another opportunity missed. With no live sport currently on Sky or BT, subscribers – many with more time on their hands – have had a pitiful fare to watch.

    Couldn’t these channels be approached and offered coverage of some of last season’s top grands prix? It’s unlikely many viewers would know the results, and I can’t believe that a sport enjoyed by millions in its heyday wouldn’t have better viewing figures than a second-tier Bundesliga football match.

    There are most certainly tough days ahead. But we have a great product to sell – and we need to keep pushing until we get a foot in the door. And once we do, to keep it there until the door opens. Now’s a good time to do it.

    Space to roam

    Listening to Prince William talking about how successive weeks of isolation can affect mental health made me realise how lucky most of us are to have plenty of space to roam.

    We’d usually be chasing our tails on the road or at shows, so lockdown has been the ideal time to get all those jobs done around the yard. And if anyone asks me if I’m bored, my standard answer is: “Well it sure beats dying.”

    I’ve always admired those yards that have Mondays off after a busy week competing. In my case, if someone wants try a horse on a Monday, I’m open for business.

    At the risk of sounding like Old Father Time, I can remember when there were very few shows held on Sundays. And when there started to be more, my father didn’t like the idea at all. He always maintained that when you had a day off, you rested up and then got more done the next week.

    Of course, the arrogance of youth led me to question this. And now I realise that much of what he said was right. But then again, he usually was.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 30 April 2020