Mark Phillips: ‘Ridiculous? It’s really off the scale’ *H&H Plus*

  • Mark Phillips reviews the current global travel and competition challenges facing riders and their support teams

    COVID-19 has changed life so much – it’s a struggle even to begin to understand what the new normal will be. Add Brexit on top of that and we almost have the perfect storm, certainly for those of us who have to travel to make a living. The paperwork involved in moving from one country to another, particularly with animals, is off the scale of ridiculousness.

    Having to take your truck to mainland Europe or Ireland to get it certified – and the cost involved – is just the start. The 32 pages of vet papers to go abroad and the time that it takes to get them processed at the border is unbelievable, and if you want to take your dog as well, that’s another whole raft of time, money and bureaucracy gone mad.

    The politicians are lucky that a lot of the Brexit hassles have been overshadowed and kept out of the news by Covid.

    We hope things will improve, but in the meantime European events that rely on a substantial entry from the UK are going to find things tough because most British-based riders will support home events. Will those events have the capacity for the increased demand?

    Badminton, Chatsworth, Rockingham and Bramham all cancelling was sad, but totally understandable. Events that traditionally had larger crowds, tradestands and sponsors have struggled to come up with a financially viable model, even with reduced prize money.

    Livestreaming can help, but if you put a livestream behind a paywall, the number of hits reduces by 80-90%, reducing the exposure value for sponsors.

    One rule for all

    ASTON-LE-WALLS will replace Chatsworth in May, a predictable and understandable move because of the amount of infrastructure Nigel Taylor has in place at Aston. Helen West and her team at Bicton Arena have bravely said they will replace Bramham.

    As a debut four-star venue, the team at Bicton will embark on a new build but will also borrow fences from some of us further up the M5 and M3.

    I will be helping with the course-design at both venues.

    It’s just sad that in a typical “one rule for all” move, the FEI has said that as a new four-star venue, Bicton can’t be a qualifier for the Olympics. It’s a rule the FEI brought in to try and stop South American countries putting on easy qualifiers for their athletes and horses, but I feel some flexibility and discretion could be applied in the current circumstances.

    At least eventing is up and running again in the UK, if only at venues where the financial model is based on entry fees.

    It would not surprise me to see more big event cancellations later in the summer because of the lead time and budgeting needed and the ongoing uncertainties of the Covid goal posts. To me, almost the worst scenario is being allowed to run with 5,000 or 10,000 spectators – then do you have tradestands, and if so how
    many and what can they be charged or what can they afford to pay? And how many will still be in business?

    A waiver to travel

    I’VE been one of the lucky ones with a high-performance waiver allowing me to travel back and forth to the US during this period.

    UK-based athletes qualify for a waiver to travel to the Kentucky five-star, based on the fact that their participation will enhance the Tokyo preparation for the US athletes. I know the US Equestrian Federation is working on trying to include owners on that waiver.

    FEI competition is due to start opening up on mainland Europe after the 11 April, with new protocols because of the equine herpes virus. That will be good news for Europeans as they will be able to start their Tokyo preparations in earnest.

    In the meantime we will all hold our breath hoping that no bad news comes out of Japan so that the Tokyo Games can go ahead, even if with only Japanese spectators.


    This exclusive column is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (1 April, 2021)

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