Dressage must meet the digital age, FEI Sports Forum told

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The chairman of the FEI Dressage Commitee, Frank Kemperman, addresses the FEI Sports Forum in Switzerland.
The chairman of the FEI Dressage Commitee, Frank Kemperman, addresses the FEI Sports Forum in Switzerland.

A unified format for key championships and innovations that cater to the digital era are crucial to the future of dressage, delegates to the FEI Sports Forum were told.

“We need to come up with a single format for Olympic Games, World Equestrian Games and championships so that the public can more easily understand our sport,” the chairman of the FEI Dressage Commitee, Frank Kemperman, told delegates from around the world in Lausanne, Switzerland.

On the agenda are options for reforms within the key Olympic equestrian disciplines as pressure mounts on less popular sports to prove themselves worthy of a spot at the Games.

“Most importantly,” said Kemperman, “we have to be open to innovation and learn how to make it better.

“There is a young public out there and we need them; they have iPhones and iPads and they follow everything ‘in the moment’ online – that’s their world, and we must be part of it.”

Kemperman opened the session dedicated to the future of dressage by emphasising that the discipline was is in a good position, especially thanks to the Freestyle.

However, there were strong signals from the International Olympic Committee that change was needed, particularly relating to the sport’s appeal to the media, he said.

Kemperman outlined the discipline’s goal to be one of the main equestrian sports and highlighted the necessity to unify formats at the Olympic Games and main championships, to attract new spectators, sponsors, and generate increased media interest while maintaining the core value of dressage.

A survey conducted in the autumn of 2014 by Repucom, which specialises in market research, media evaluation and commercial auditing, found that:

 

  • New and shorter formats were crucial, as were commentary and graphics on television;
  • Key events should be actively used to attract new audiences;
  • Modernisation and increased freedom of dress code and music should be actively considered;
  • Human interest stories in media would broaden interest;
  • Modernisation should be handled carefully in order to retain the core dressage fans.

The survey also established that 86 percent of those surveyed were attracted to dressage by its beauty, the relationship between horse and rider, the horse itself, as well as the sport’s grace, elegance, aesthetics and fun, with only 24 percent interested because of concepts including discipline, control and training.

Proposed change to Olympic format

Proposed changes to the Olympic Games format  were detailed for consideration by the forum. They included teams of three or potentially two combinations, and shorter tests, Pas-de-Deux or Pas-De-Trois.

The positives of these proposals were considered to be the potential participation of a larger number of nations, which would increase universality, and separate individual and team competitions. The removal of the drop score would increase drama and entertainment and contribute towards more unpredictable results.

The negative aspects would include a possible decrease in the level of excellence as top nations may bring fewer participants, and significant consequences for the team if a horse was eliminated or disqualified.

The proposal was also that formats for the FEI World Equestrian Games and European Championships should match the Olympic Games format.

Other factors outlined as likely to have a positive impact on the attractiveness of the discipline included: Greater interaction and explanations on the sport, social media, use of music during tests other than the Freestyle, length of tests, formats, quotas, open scoring, a redefined dress code, lifestyle stories, higher prize money, more attractive prize-giving ceremonies and the involvement of young riders.

The presentation was followed by a lengthy discussion, with representatives of dressage riders, trainers and organisers’ clubs, the national federations of Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States, as well as the European Equestrian Federation, making contributions.

The main topics raised during the discussion were judging, dropping of highest and lowest scores for each movement, open versus running scores at major events, change in dress code and the increased use of social media.

Protecting the welfare of the horse at all times was highlighted, and the creation of a video handbook was also discussed.

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