The five candidates vying for the presidency of the FEI today outlined their respective visions for horse sport on the eve of a vote to find a successor for Princess Haya.
The five Europeans in the race will go into Sunday’s General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan, with hopes of leading the world governing body for the next four years.Princess Haya is stepping down after eight years in the role.
The candidates, Pierre Durand, of France, John McEwen, of Britain, Pierre Genecand, of Switzerland, Ingmar De Vos, of Belgium, and Ulf Helgstrand, of Denmark, each had an opportunity to address delegates before a question and answer session.
The five traversed a range of issues they considered important to the future of horse sport, ranging across how championships are presented, the need to grow audiences, consolidating the sport’s place at the Olympics, the importance of unity and integrity, the need to maintain good equine welfare standards, and concerns around the costs of staging events.
The candidates were asked what plans they had to increase the commercial portfolio of the FEI.
Helgstrand said that if horse sport did not get sufficient media attention it would be difficult to get sponsors to provide support. He suggested the FEI had to look at current sporting formats and make them more understandable. If horse sport managed to grow media visibility, then it would attract more sponsorship, he said.
Genecand said sponsors were interested in backing equestrian sport. “The problem is the format,” he said, which he described as too complicated, with classes that lasted too long. “We can attract a lot of new sponsors if we present a very good product.”
De Vos said a review of formats would lead to a review of the commercial portfolio. Initiatives to make horse sport more global was important in attracting more sponsors.
“I believe we have a unique product and sharing it on a broader platform will allow us to promote the sport commercially.”
McEwen said a range of sports were competing for the same pool of sponsorship money. Improving the profile of horse sport was crucial to growing sponsorship, he said. Growing global exposure would help to make horse sport attractive to potential sponsors.
Durand said the current financial position of the FEI was excellent. However, the system needed to be self sufficient and sustainable. He said he had a record of adding value. “I hope to do the same for the FEI.”
All of the candidates were determined to ensure that horse sports retained their place in the Olympic Games programme. Genecand said that smaller nations needed more support to get to the Olympic Games, while Durand said that as an Olympic champion he was in a prime position to gain respect from the IOC family in terms of support for horse sports.
McEwen reiterated that the disciplines needed to be more understandable to the public, a sentiment echoed by Helgstrad, who gave the example that in dressage judging “the experts” disagreed with each other on the results, so “how can the public understand?” He also said it was important that riders from all nations had an equal opportunity to qualify for the Olympics.
De Vos noted that strengthening the position of equestrian sport in the Olympic programme was “a permanent concern”, but that the 40 points raised by the Olympic 2020 plan were fantastic, and an “invitation for change”.
Some words from the candidates (in order of speaking):
“Each discipline must increase the attractiveness of its competition.”
“Values are not a slogan.”
“What I am asking you right now is to believe in this idea that together we will create tomorrow.”
“The landscape of horse sport is shifting. If equestrianism is to thrive in the modern world, we must preserve the best traditions and embrace evolution.”
“I am my own man. I will lead the FEI in an open an independent way.”
Ingmar de Vos
“I’ve spent as much time in the tack room as the board room.”
“The potential of horse sport is alive and well.”
“We must build on the progress of the last eight years.”
“Pleasing everyone is ‘mission impossible’.”
“I will lead equestrian sport with efficiency and neutrality.”
“I am like a Swiss army knife – I can multi-task.”
“Please remember the heritage of the sport. We have a great responsibility for this.”
“We have to solve challenges internally – face to face, not in the media. Keep it inside the horse world or we are only hurting ourselves.”