Rupert Bell: The public needs a storyline *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    British representation at the recent World Cup final in Paris was minimal. Let’s be honest, this once prestigious indoor finale no longer captures the public’s imagination as it used to when it really mattered to riders. It’s now lost in a never-ending calendar of grands prix.

    The Global Champions Tour (GCT) is in full swing and the Nations Cup series is kicking off in Europe, but for riders it’s just a treadmill they could be on for 50 weeks of the year chasing bucket-loads of money. In my job I am fortunate enough to cover many sports, and where these succeed and jumping fails is in providing a narrative. The public needs to be gripped by the storyline.

    Taking inspiration from golf and tennis, where rankings have a significant impact on the story of each sport, I propose a radical shake-up to the current Longines world showjumping rankings, which currently matter little other than as a ticket to the big events and a brief spell of glory for the world number one to wear the Longines armband.

    In golf, the Race To Dubai, for example, spans 47 tournaments in 30 countries across four continents. But where it differs from showjumping’s three main series is that it is used to crown the European Tour’s number one and provides a great narrative and gripping conclusion.

    A race to the final

    This could easily work in showjumping if you made rankings matter and had an end goal. If you made the World Cup final the end of the season and offered the top 20 riders in the rankings at the end of each year a bonus — say £250,000 to the winner down to £10,000 for 20th — it would provide a real incentive to every rider.

    Key events — the Olympics, World Equestrian Games, European Championships, plus the World Cup and Nations Cup finals would be your big-point events — say, 100 points to the Olympic gold medallist, 90 to the World Cup champion, 80 to the GCT winner and so on, providing each with a certain significance and a reason not just to chase the big prize-money week in, week out.

    Even finishing lower down the honours at these championships would be worth more than winning an ordinary grand prix. Offering a rankings reward for jumping double clear for your country in a Nations Cup is another incentive to benefit the individual.

    All the other grands prix and supporting classes through the year would offer a lower level of points — and with a strength of-field quotient, according to how many top-ranked riders are competing — and at the end of the year, the leading rider and, equally importantly, the top-ranked horse are crowned.

    In this rankings system, the likes of Jeroen Dubbeldam and Peder Fredricson, who have both won major championships but do not chase grands prix every week, could in theory have earned enough points to be crowned world number one, an accolade each surely deserved.

    We would celebrate a glorious, clearly defined end of season at the World Cup — where the top 20 ranked riders would be competing to write that final chapter. From a media perspective, that kind of narrative is exactly what editors want, to give the sport publicity.

    So this is my vision for the future of the sport. The media coverage for nearly every other sport is about a race to the final — why should showjumping be different? It needs to be simple, something even non-horsey people can understand. A very simple shake-up of the rankings system is all it needs.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 3 May 2018