The FEI has been busy lately producing two reports, one is looking at the future of Eventing particularly as an Olympic sport. The second report is looking at WEG and the wash-up following Normandy. The FEI is not normally known for their openness with regards to sharing the strategy for the sport so it’s good news that they are being more open, though the reading of the reports is depressing for those who feel passionate about the sport.
The good news is that none of this strategy is set into place, it’s yet to be discussed so don’t become completely depressed about the future of the sport evolving, but it’s important that these issues are discussed openly and good debate can take place to secure the future of the sport.
The Olympic sports are categorised in terms of popularity, gauged by ticket requests, television viewing figures, press coverage and other factors. The category determines the share the sport’s International Federation receives of Olympic revenue. The bad news for equestrian sport is that it’s near the bottom.
The current categories are:
- Category A: athletics, aquatics, gymnastics.
- Category B: cycling, basketball, football, tennis and volleyball.
- Category C: archery, badminton, boxing, judo, rowing, shooting, table tennis and weightlifting.
- Category D: canoe/kayaking, equestrian, fencing, handball, field hockey, sailing, taekwondo, triathlon and wrestling.
- Category E: modern pentathlon, golf and rugby (rugby and golf are new hence low category).
This means equestrian sport is already on the backfoot before the games have even begun, then add to that they are expensive to run and need large amounts of space. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is always looking at events which can be dropped and we have had big nations in the past supporting equestrianism, but the pendulum has swung and new nations have increasing power within the IOC, nations which are not interested in equestrianism within the Olympic movement.
‘The International Federations have all been asked to review their sports to ensure they are attractive, modern, TV and spectator friendly. ‘
The FEI has looked particularly at eventing within this report, as dressage and showjumping are much easier disciplines to run within an Olympic games. Both sports are also more accessible to emerging nations.
The FEI has identified that the core of eventing needs to remain in place.
- Same rider, riding one horse in three different tests.
- Dressage and jumping tests to be representative of the respective disciplines and the cross country to be representing the essence of eventing.
- The order of the tests (dressage – cross country – showjumping) will remain the same.
But this is where the ideas into developing the future of the sport all become slightly bonkers.
The report has suggested splitting the team and individual competition (feeling deja vu?) and athletes can only compete in one competition. But this is where the ideas become slightly off the wall with the team competition being 3* and the individual competition being 4*. All team members in the 3* competition would have their times added together for xc and sj so that a faster round could counterbalance a slower round.
Now call me slightly confused, but surely the objective is to make the format easy to run and easy to understand. So why would you now have a 3* and 4* track being added into the requirements for a host to pay for and produce? Surely the costs need to be reduced rather than increased? As for adding times together, surely we don’t need to be encouraging more risk on the jumping phases?
Long term, the FEI report suggests that all team competitions should be run at 3* level. I can understand why this suggestion has been raised: to encourage participation and make it easier for more nations to compete. It would suggest that the current 4* format would be expressly for individuals. We currently have 3* team competitions run at the Europeans and the Olympics. Is it the best for the sport? I don’t think so. It does not represent the true pinnacle and test.
There is a proposal for increased qualification for the 4* level which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing but then it is self defeating against the FEI trying to open the sport up and making it more accessible to other nations.
A new level would be introduced for children on ponies/horses at 1.05m level. Children would not be required to just ride ponies at this level. This level would be then designated at 1* level with the other levels currently designated as FEI competitions moving up a level, which would mean the much joked about 5* level would make an appearance.
At e-Venting we noticed in January that the FEI was targeting bitting. In the dressage the FEI tried to ban straightbars, hanging cheek snaffles and rubber/plastic bits but now they are determined that strong bitting used by inexperienced riders can affect the focus of the horse. I would disagree, having watched a lot of 1* and 2* competitions last year: there were a lot of factors in the bad riding that I saw but speed was usually the culprit as in either going too fast or approaching the fence at completely the wrong speed, and these were mainly rider decisions rather than looking like they had the wrong bitting.
The report suggests reviewing cross country penalties and reducing the first refusal to 10 penalties and 30 for the second refusal. I just personally do not understand the reasoning on this. It means that the jumping phases are further devalued and the co-efficient in dressage becomes hugely influential. There is also a suggestion for 5 penalties if you knock a flag. The report does recognise that course designers will need to allow more space. At this point I am positively rolling my eyes. I have this image of kayaking where riders are ducking and diving and trying to keep out of the way of flags.
Finally, in other business the name of the sport was open to discussion with suggestions being Equestrian Triathlon, Equestrathon or Tri-Equathlon.
These are the main points. There will be opportunities to discuss the report at forums being held at Boekelo, Blair and the Pan Am Games. Riders are typically very apathetic as most stuff just does not affect them, but actually the future of the sport is in jeopardy. Riders need to become actively involved in getting their views across and coming up with a workable solution, rather than the sport becoming increasingly disparate.
Eventing in the UK will survive if it fails to remain an Olympic sport, but lots of the things we have seen introduced over the years such as BE80 (T) have come about through Lottery funding, by asking the sports to increase grassroots participation. You might never see elite rider funding through Sport England but there will be impacts on the sport that we know at all levels.