Horse sports must adapt to the modern media age, says FEI presidential candidate

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FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos
Ingmar De Vos.

Horse sport needs to be more accessible, exciting and easier to follow, according to the Belgium-nominated candidate for the FEI presidency.

Ingmar De Vos said the wider organisation needed to have the courage to look at competition formats with unbiased, open minds.

“If we want to promote our sport in the best way possible, we need to make the sport accessible, exciting and easy to understand for a larger audience,” he suggested.

“This means that our competition formats need to be adapted for modern television and digital media.”

He hoped that within 10 years equestrianism would be at the pinnacle of top sport.

De Vos, who released his presidential programme to national federations last weekend, said he saw a future in which modern equestrian sport was widely broadcast on global television channels.

“I see a time in which equestrian sport’s unequivocal success, reach and appeal make our place in the Olympic programme an absolute certainty.”

De Vos said all Olympic sports were evaluated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on many parameters, with popularity on television, internet and social media growing in importance.

It was crucial to continue to grow horse sport’s popularity, he said, not least because it was the IOC’s evaluations which decided the distribution of Olympic television revenues to international sporting federations.

It was therefore important to showcase horse sports on television and on platforms unrelated to the Olympics as much as possible.

“To achieve this, we need to promote our sport in general on global networks and use our flagship events more effectively for this purpose.

“We need to make our sport more accessible for a larger audience by reviewing our competition formats – not only for the Olympics but in general across the disciplines,” he said.

One challenge, he said, was coming up with equestrian competitions suitable for television that were easy to distribute, suggesting that 60-90 minute formats were best suited for this.

He continued: “As popularity is also linked with the image and reputation of a sport, we need to investigate and better understand what the image of our sport is and what initiatives we can undertake to improve this image where possible.”

De Vos, who is currently FEI secretary general, said in preparing his programme he had looked back over 25 years of working within governing bodies and organising committees in equestrian sport.

“It is humbling and instructive to reflect on how far we have come, even in the relative blink of an eye that is the past quarter century.

“Twenty-five years ago, our international sport was almost exclusively concentrated in Europe and Northern America. When 30 national federations attended the FEI General Assembly, it was considered a huge success.

“Horse welfare and rider safety were not high on the agenda. Horses performed on almost any footing, and all events could easily find a place in the FEI calendar.”

Back then, most organising committees were groups of friends who relied on personal networks to find mainly local sponsors.

De Vos, who is one of five European candidates seeking to replace Princess Haya as president in mid-December, when she stands down, said the global growth of horse sport had made competitions more interesting and universal.

He said his candidacy was inspired by a balance. “On the one hand, I stand for preserving and continuing the legacy of the outgoing president, Princess Haya. On the other hand, I stand for overcoming new challenges and finding new opportunities that will drive our organisation further.”

It was, he said, the responsibility of the FEI to listen and, as a governing body, to find the best balance between all interests – even if they were sometimes controversial.

De Vos said he was standing unconditionally for the presidency, and he would not combine the role with that of secretary general.

“If elected, I will immediately take up the position as president in all its aspects and appoint an interim secretary general until a suitable permanent candidate is found.”

He said he would propose to the FEI Bureau that it call an Extrarodinary General Assembly (EGA) during next year’s Sports Forum to consider whether the presidency should become a paid role.

“I want to be clear that remuneration is not a condition of my presidency. If elected, I am committed to serving a full term as FEI president regardless of the outcome of the EGA.”

National federations remained the cornerstone of the FEI, he said, and he believed in the “absolute sanctity of our one nation, one vote system”.

“We are a global FEI, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we represent local national federations.”

De Vos outlined what he called the five pillars of his presidential programme: serving the equestrian community, sport as the core business, equestrian sport at the Olympics, FEI Solidarity as the engine of development, and horses as partners.

“I am a straightforward person with straightforward ideas and ethics. I believe in uncompromising integrity. In good leadership. In fair play. In a service-oriented approach. And in hard work.”

He said he saw the FEI as a service organisation, and said staff at headquarters were more service-oriented than ever before. The organisation was communicating better with national federations.

“National federations are the heart of the FEI. You are the representatives, guardians and custodians of our sport in countries all around the world. I have been determined to act as a bridge and a connector, bringing national federations closer to the FEI.

“I am very proud that, in recent years, we have seen perhaps unprecedented unity amongst national federations as we have strived together towards common dreams and goals, and as we have worked together to collectively overcome obstacles.”

De Vos backed the continuation of the annual Sports Forum, which he said played an important role in guaranteeing a transparent decision-making process that allowed the whole equestrian community to participate.

The FEI, he said, needed to provide national federations and stakeholders with IT platforms and solutions to improve the exchange of data such as registrations, entries and results.

“I will ensure that we always look for solutions that improve efficiency and reduce workloads.”

The FEI needed to work on education programmes for a wide range of people, he said, describing it as a key priority should he be elected.

He would also promote the creation of orientation programmes for new national federation officials to create a better understanding of what the FEI was doing and what the world governing body could do for them.

He said continental associations have been recognized by the FEI, but their role was not clear. He proposed a working group to clarify their future role within the FEI.

De Vos said he strongly backed FEI Solidarity, describing it as as important motor of development for the organisation.

He said the FEI could serve the equestrian community only if it had the resources to do so.

“Financial health and sustainable revenues are paramount,” he said.

He said he did not believe that levies on national federations and organising committees should increase. “Additional revenues should come from commercial partners, sales of television rights and commercialisation of our own products.”

He said he was proud to have contributed to the FEI’s partnership with Swiss luxury watchmaker Longines.

“But there are many other opportunities to attract other top partners and if we use the network of our community, I am sure we can achieve this.”

He also believed there were possibilities to generate more income from licensing and merchandising.

He spoke of the global growth in horse sport, but suggested there was no room for complacency.

“Growth,” he said, brought many challenges. “Maintaining a fair, level playing field and preserving the integrity of the sport is an ongoing mission.

“Our sport is not yet as accessible as we would like it to be. There is a great deal of work to be done in this area.”

De Vos undertook to work with the FEI’s technical committees to bring proposals for new formats – especially for Games and Championships – to the annual FEI Sports Forum.

Everything possible needed to be done to further promote horse sport through new technologies, graphics and applications that were exciting for spectators, he said.

The World Equestrian Games needed to be kept within feasible proportions, while keeping the event as universal as possible and possibly doubling as a qualifier for Olympic Games.

The growth of horse sports had also increased the number of events in the FEI calendar, he said.

“This increase is not a real problem as the growth in the number of events goes hand-in-hand with the growth of our sport and, at the same time, answers to market demands.

“If there is a problem, this is more situated at the very high level competitions that also play an important role in the promotion of our sport.

“We need to identify the real high-level events that showcase our sport, and we need to have a better structured approach to be inserting them in the calendar to avoid date clashes.”

The event categorisation system needed further development, too, he suggested.

He raised the prospect of a new category of exhibition events where professionals and amateurs could compete together, with limited or no impact on rankings.

De Vos stressed the importance of integrity in horse sport.

“I will lead the fight against match fixing in a proactive way by ensuring that we further promote clean sport while also ensuring that new regulations are fraud-proof.”

Equestrian disciplines needed to be promoted in all regions of the world, and he proposed an audit to discover each discipline’s specific situation in each global region.

“I am committed to a review of the financing of the anti-doping programme, which I believe should not have an impact on organisers.”

He also pledged to evaluate and, where necessary, review the education system for officials, offering them a clear career planning structure with clear promotion and demotion rules.

“In return for this, we will work to promote more respect for the officials and provide them with more support while exerting their functions.”

De Vos said one of the FEI’s key priorities was to preserve the place of horse sports in the Olympic programme.

If elected, he promised to lead the efforts to help preserve and protect equestrian sport’s place in the Olympics. This, he said, would partly be done by staying ahead of any challenges, and partly by developing and increasing the global reach and popularity of horse sport.

He stressed the importance of horse welfare across the disciplines.

“This is the responsibility of the whole community, but the FEI must clearly take the lead in this. Awareness of the importance of horse welfare must be present in all that we do and must inform all decisions the FEI makes.”

The FEI’s Clean Sport programme needed to be applied consistently across the world, he said.

The new president will be elected during the FEI’s General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan, in mid-December.

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