Eventing leaders to meet in London to discuss Olympic reform

Reigning Olympic and European champion Michael Jung, pictured on La Biosthetique Sam, takes on Burghley for the first time this weekend.
Michael Jung, of Germany, is pictured competing on La Biosthetique Sam at the Luhmühlen CCI 4* event last June. Could changes ultimately adopted for the Olympics shape the future of international Eventing? Photo:FEI

Leaders from the global Eventing community are about to meet in London to discuss proposed changes to the Olympic format that may ultimately shape the sport internationally.

Tuesday’s meeting in London will draw riders and officials from at least 23 nations, in a bid to find consensus around proposed changes to the discipline at Olympic level.

The formats of all Olympic equestrian disciplines have been under scrutiny in the past year following the passing of a 40-point reform agenda by the International Olympic Committee late in 2014.

The changes targeted the cost of staging the Games, imposed limits on athlete numbers, and introduced more flexibility into the programme, which poses a particular risk to the lower-tier Olympic sports.

It is widely perceived that reforms in the equestrian disciplines are needed to make them easier to understand and more suited to media-friendly packages, given that the standings of sports are based to a significant extent around measures of media, especially so television audiences, as well as social media mentions, internet page views, general public appreciation, ticket sales and universality.

The president of the Eventing Riders Association (International), Bruce Haskell, said his organisation proposed the meeting to get as many Eventing-specific representatives of national federations together to discuss key points of the FEI Eventing Committee’s proposal arising out of the Olympic reform agenda.

“From a rider’s point of view, there are so many arguments for and against each direction that we decided to help create a meeting to solve these problems rather than hold a position that would disadvantage some athletes.”

“The aim of this meeting is to create an environment where key conclusions can be drawn,” he said just hours before the meeting.

“Even if the conclusion is that common agreement cannot be found and further work needs to be undertaken, then that is a positive outcome.”

Haskell said the meeting was seen as a way of supporting the FEI Eventing Committee to be able to produce an Olympic format that both met the changing needs of the sport and the need for change from the International Olympic Committee.

“The timing of the meeting is critical. The FEI Eventing Committee meets in early March, and the FEI Sports Forum, where the Olympic Formats of all equestrian disciplines will be presented, is on April 5.”

Haskell described Tuesday’s eventing meeting as very significant.

“It will be the first ever time key personnel representing the eventing-specific views of national federations will have met.”

New Zealand rider Bruce Haskell and Rocco II at Salperton in 2010.
New Zealand rider Bruce Haskell and Rocco II in action at Salperton in 2010. © Al Crook

Haskell said his association worked with British Eventing and the European Equestrian Federation to ensure that the views of as many countries as possible would be heard.

“Attendance at the meeting range from the super powers of modern eventing through to developing eventing nations, so conclusions drawn from the meeting will be representative and difficult to ignore.”

Haskell released an open letter ahead of the meeting to outline the view of the Eventing Riders Association, noting that almost a year had passed since discussions began again about the future of eventing at the Games.

“At the 2015 FEI Sports Forum, Kit McConnell from the IOC gave a presentation to all equestrian sports, not just eventing, on the need to consider change. Change to stay relevant, change to grow, change to engage, change for sustainability and change for commercial presence at the future Olympic games.

“From that time various proposals for suggested the Olympic Eventing format were put forward from different nations.

“The majority of the focus seemed to balance on the need for both a team medal and individual medal, with proposals from different groups as to the best eventing format to create that balance.

“It was clear from a very early point that a cohesive and widely accepted plan was going to be difficult to achieve.

“At the same time the FEI Eventing Committee held meetings at key events and listened to the concerns and suggestions of the stakeholders that attended.

“The fact remained that for eventing to be a credible Olympic sport, the format must reflect the highest level of our competition therefore the only format to consider was CCI. This left the difficult issue of two medals from one effort.

“Every athlete in eventing wants to the chance to be the best even if they are competing in a team. This is only natural and very unique to our sport because we simply cannot repeat the cross country phase on the same horse.

“Late in 2015 the news came through that eventing no longer required ‘two efforts for two medals’. That information dramatically simplified the process of format and made the traditional CCI possible. The FEI Eventing committee therefore presented their proposed format to the 2015 FEI General Assembly in November.”

Haskell said the proposed format had some significant changes intended to meet the IOC suggested criteria for making our sport more easily understood to a wider audience and increasing nation participation.

“It also makes a clear attempt to retain the ‘core’ of eventing whilst enhancing the separation from team and individual medals.

“There are some basic ideas that will work within the proposal that will work, however it has left some remaining questions that still divide the eventing community.”

These issues are:

  • Three in a team with no drop score
  • Showjumping running order. Individual first or last.
  • Inclusion of composite teams and a moderated scoring system.

“Eventing has to be careful at this point and consider the future of what our sport will look like at all levels.

“The Olympics, as we have seen in past, has a top-down effect on the rest of the sport.

“There is a potential influence that in order to meet IOC criteria of the Olympic Eventing competition being the highest level of our sport, we may have to use this format at all team competitions.

“British Eventing held the second of their working groups and produced a paper of suggestions. ERA International was approached by British Eventing, who had produced a paper drawn from the conclusions of their own 2020 working group, to forward their paper to other national federations for consideration. During that process differences of opinion surfaced.

“A similar working group was held by the European Equestrian Federation Eventing group and again the outcome of that varied from the FEI proposal and that of British Eventing.”

Haskell said it was clear that, in some cases, what suited one country would not suit others.

“Bearing in mind that national Olympic funding comes from the performances of their Olympic Eventing athletes, there is a lot at stake.

“ERA International feels very strongly that there is a gap within FEI governance that allows key decisions and rule changes to be made by the national federations as a whole and not by the Eventing components of those groups.

“For our part, the ERA International Committee drew the conclusion that, based on the diverse differences in opinion of our athletes, it would be wrong to offer a single conclusion and feel that we are best served representing the athletes by helping to facilitate the discussions surrounding the key topics by making sure this meeting happened.

“Whatever the outcome will be, ERA International is aware that change needs to occur. Change will never suit all stakeholders. We must all look to find a balance between the role of Eventing in the evolving nature of sport as medium of entertainment and the traditional values of our unique sport.

“The time for change is upon us and this meeting is essential to defining what that change looks like and what Eventing looks like in the future.”

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