A new-look showjumping Nations Cup series is secure, with a four-year sponsorship package worth €16million from the Saudi Equestrian Fund.
The deal was announced at horse sport’s annual meeting, the FEI General Assembly, in Istanbul last week (8 November).
The old Nations Cup format was considered unwieldy and difficult to understand, but was an important route by which countries qualify for European and World Championships.
The Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup will be a knock-out competition that splits equestrian nations into six regions.
Instead of final placings being decided by points accumulated through the series, teams will try to qualify for a new 18-team final next autumn, the venue for which is still to be decided.
The wording of the rules was still to be released.
British showjumping chef d’equipe Rob Hoekstra said: “I am not sure what they [the FEI] have decided, but the European federations, the top shows and chefs d’equipe put a proposal to them [before the General Assembly] and told them it was the only one we were going to go with.
“The idea of a competition with a final is a good one, but they needed to assure us that there was sufficient [prize] money and that the existing Nations Cup venues would be able to take part.”
The FEI has announced that the eight top league venues from the 2012 series — including Hickstead and Dublin — will host a leg. Teams must compete at their home plus five other shows over the season.
But Hickstead’s Lizzie Bunn said “fine tuning” is still in progress, especially about how the series will be funded and the concept of wild cards and invitations.
“We will have the eight European ‘super league’ shows, but European countries only need to compete at six. We have asked if we can use the two spare slots to invite two more teams [for example Brazil or the USA],” said Ms Bunn.
Funding SAUDI Arabia — a well-funded and expanding equestrian nation who claimed showjumping team bronze at Greenwich — took over the funding of the 2012 competition after the loss of sponsorship from the owners of Dubai racecourse, Meydan, in 2010.
This meant the FEI sponsored the series itself in 2011.
The Saudis promised to extend their funding in return for a more inclusive format.
European nations will now compete in two separate leagues and teams may be promoted to or demoted from the top league, depending on their results.
Nine European teams, plus two each from North and Central America; South America; the Middle East; and Asia, and one from Africa will take part in the final.
This makes a possible 19, as the host of the final automatically qualifies.
Mr Hoekstra feels that’s too many. “That number is fine for an Olympic Games, but only so many championships of that size should take place, otherwise they lose their cachet,” he said.
This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (15 November 2012)