Mark Phillips: It’ll be a new normal in every way *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s eventing columnist reveals how he is helping British Eventing to formulate a new normal, including asking questions such as whether the sport at BE80(T), BE90 and BE100 level can be made more affordable for riders, owners and organisers...

    These are strange times and the future has never been more uncertain, so making firm plans more than a few days ahead is almost impossible.

    At the time of writing there is no indication of when widespread sport can resume in the UK – the government document released last Monday said that as part of step two (at the earliest 1 June), sporting events could “take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact”. But the same timescale surely does not apply to small-scale events.

    Some larger equestrian fixtures, including Luhmühlen, have modelled running without spectators. But even with TV and sponsors, the finances don’t stack up for any event dependent on fans through the gate and tradestands.

    Having said that, few sports have less contact and more social distancing than equestrianism, and therefore we must be near the top of the list for permission to open up.

    This will be a different sport to the one we know. Organisers will need clearance locally that hospitals, paramedics and ambulances have spare capacity. Riders will be accompanied by a maximum of two or three people. There will be face masks and constant social distancing.

    Venues would be limited in how many people can be present at any one time. In America, nobody will be allowed on site without a skin temperature test and anybody not social distancing will be evicted. Entries, running orders and results will all be online and competitors will even print their own bib numbers. Limited numbers in the warm-up areas will be the new normal.

    We need a vaccine

    On a brighter note, people can now travel to work and exercise. As I write, we await full British Equestrian and British Horse Society statements, but I believe instructors can drive to teach and riders can even cross-country school, local medical capacity permitting – all with the social distancing caveat. The ability to train has to be the first step back to limited competition.

    We have to admit though that Covid-19 is not going away soon and will be with us for the next 12 to 24 months. In that time, hopefully drugs will make treatment more effective and there will be a vaccine.

    So much depends on that vaccine, because if it’s not readily available by March, the postponed Olympic Games will probably be cancelled – and Badminton will be just around the corner again…

    The new normal

    My latest task is being a member of a British Eventing (BE) advisory group with Mike Etherington-Smith, Helen West and Stuart Buntine. We are working with the board to try to formulate what BE and the sport in the UK should look like in 2021 and beyond.

    We are asking questions such as can we restructure membership and registrations? Can we make BE80(T), BE90 and BE100 more affordable for riders, owners and organisers?

    I saw for the first time the awful, impersonal fixtures calendar form that organisers had to fill out during the strategic fixtures calendar review, with the aim of fixing the calendar for three years and possibly six. Small wonder a lot of the decisions made thereafter caused so much upset and grief.

    The group will look at the fixtures protocol and what abandonment insurance should look like – or do we need it at all if we only affiliate March and October events on sandy or free-draining soil?

    The advisory group is facing a mountain of work as we try to accelerate the process towards a lean, mean, fit-for-purpose BE. Post-Covid there will be a new normal for everyone; maybe also there could be a new normal at BE.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 14 May 2020