Media exposure a crucial measure for Olympic inclusion, delegates told

International Olympic Committee sports director Kit McConnell, right, is pictured with the chairmen of FEI Olympic disciplines, from left, Frank Kemperman, Dressage; Giuseppe Della Chiesa, Eventing; and John Madden, Jumping. Photo: Germain Arias-Schreiber/FEI
International Olympic Committee sports director Kit McConnell, right, is pictured with the chairmen of FEI Olympic disciplines, from left, Frank Kemperman, Dressage; Giuseppe Della Chiesa, Eventing; and John Madden, Jumping. Photo: Germain Arias-Schreiber/FEI

The crucial importance of television, internet and press coverage in determining each sport’s future inclusion in the Olympic programme has been spelled out to delegates at the annual FEI Sports Forum.

The sports director of the International Olympic Committee, Kit McConnell, traversed a range of issues around the radical Olympic reform programme, Agenda 2020, in an address to delegates in Switzerland.

McConnell’s presentation included a look at television, internet and press figures for equestrian sport.

The implications of those measures were stressed by FEI President Ingmar De Vos, who spoke to delegates after McConnell.

McConnell, he said, had made it very clear that these will be, more than ever before, the parameters on which sports will be evaluated for future Olympic programmes.

“We need to understand that these are also the parameters that become more and more important in our own sport.”

The key items on the Sports Forum’s agenda focus on possible reforms within the key Olympic disciplines, as the IOC ramps up pressure across all sports to prove themselves worthy of a spot at the Games.

McConnell addressed delegates on Agenda 2020 and its relevance to the FEI.

The FEI’s current review of formats for the Olympic disciplines was not unlike the process that the IOC had gone through with Agenda 2020, he said.

“It’s timely that we could join you while you’re focusing on the evolution of your sport, as we are on a similar pathway.

“The reasons you’re going through this process are similar to the reasons why we’ve gone through the process of Agenda 2020.

“We need to embrace change and be a driver of change, not a passenger, and we are moving forward with a completely holistic review of the IOC and the Olympic movement.

“We have a fantastic relationship with the FEI. It’s a constructive and very open one, and it’s a relationship based on partnership, with an open and constructive dialogue.

McConnell addressed the key elements of Olympic Agenda 2020, highlighting four areas:

  • Maximizing engagement of the youth audience;
  • Achieving gender equality and promotion of women’s sport;
  • Increasing universality; and
  • Increasing the popularity and value of the Olympic Games.

On gender equality, he said the IOC was working with international federations to achieve 50 percent female participation in the Olympic Games and to stimulate women’s participation and involvement by creating more participation opportunities at the Olympic Games.

This involved encouraging the inclusion of mixed-gender team events and aiming for an equal gender balance across the Games as a whole.

“The FEI has been fully compliant with this for many years, but your international federation is in a fairly unique position”, he said, before informing delegates that the numbers for equestrian in London were 122 men and 77 women.

Across all sports at the 2012 Games, there was 44.4 percent female participation, with a goal of 46.1 percent for Rio in 2016.

“Equestrian was an outstanding success in terms of ticketing at London 2012, with over 98 percent of all tickets sold across the three disciplines,” he said.

Strong media coverage of equestrian across all platforms at London 2012 was noted. In broadcast, Jumping was well ahead of the other two disciplines in terms of hours of coverage, but Dressage was the most popular discipline online and in print media coverage.

He stressed that it was equally important for the IOC to embrace its traditions and history, as it was for each of the sports in the Olympic Programme, and to look at how to embrace those traditions and make them a strength.

He spoke of the unique nature of equestrian sport with the combination of horse and man, the passionate global community and the diversity between the disciplines. He also referred to the iconic locations used for equestrian sport.

“Not every sport can go to the places you can go to, where you can showcase your sport and the host, and engage spectators. It’s very valuable and very special for the sport.”

McConnell said the IOC valued its partnership with FEI and was committed to a close working relationship.

Ingmar De Vos told delegates that the FEI saw the Olympic Agenda 2020 as an invitation to continue a process that the FEI had already set in motion prior to the Olympic reform process.

He spoke of gender equality in equestrian sports as “one of the key assets of our sport and a value which we are very proud of”.

De Vos also referred to its proactive stance in delivering equestrian sport at the Olympics, with its creation of a new position within the FEI for a director of games and championships filled by Tim Hadaway, who was equestrian sports manager at the London Olympic Games.

“By doing this we recognised the need for more involvement and support from the international federation to the organising committee in order to deliver the Games the best way possible, and this before the Olympic Agenda 2020 was established.

“I sincerely believe that the international federations need to take their responsibility because in the end it’s our sport, and while the responsibility of the organising committee ends after the event, we need to go on and preserve our legacy.”

De Vos discussed the guiding principles of the evolution of the Olympic programme.

Alongside gender equality, he highlighted increasing Games popularity and value, maximising engagement of the youth audience and increasing universality.

“I believe this is a very clear message from the IOC to the international federations about what they have to focus on and I am happy to say that we share these principles.

“This is also what we have identified and one of the main reasons that we are here together at the FEI Sports Forum.”

On the potential revision of formats, De Vos discussed the two general proposals across the three Olympic disciplines: making a clear differentiation between team and individual competitions and the proposed removal of the drop score to fulfil the universality and excellence elements of Agenda 2020.

“I want to reiterate that the values of our sport are paramount in all these discussions and it’s not about changing for the sake of change,” he said.

“We have our traditions, our values and our identity, but this does not mean we have to be conservative. It’s about finding the right balance and implementing the right changes without losing the essence of our sport.

“We need to ask ourselves, is equestrian sport too complicated for television viewers and spectators with no equestrian background? Is it global enough? Are competition formats simple to understand and exciting enough to encourage new fans?

“If our ultimate goal is modern horse sport for the modern era, then we need to address all these questions.”

In the question and answer session that followed, the issues of social media, universality, risk, international federation groupings and revenue distribution from the Games were all debated, prior to the discipline specific sessions later in the day.

Stefan Kürten, from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), told delegates about the challenges currently faced by sports in public broadcasting, including fierce competition between sporting events, less airtime for sport on generalist channels, strong fragmentation of the television market, increasing calendar conflicts, and the duration of sport events versus entertainment programmes.

Kürten said sport was expensive compared to other programmes, but remained strong when there was emotion, national interest and when it was telecast live.

The number of themed channels was exploding, resulting in less sport on generalist channels. Ratings were always king, Kürten said.

The key to increased airtime on public television, which was an essential component of a successful sponsor package, was high quality television production, telling stories, meeting the broadcasters’ needs, and a requirement for strict timetable discipline and focus.

The EBU, which is a professional association working on behalf of European public service broadcasters, has been a partner with the FEI since 1989. The cooperation was recently extended through to 2022.

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One thought on “Media exposure a crucial measure for Olympic inclusion, delegates told

  • May 7, 2015 at 6:18 am

    The FEI had exclusive rights to visual coverage of the WEG. That excluded a great deal of viewers who really wanted to watch the competitions. The Olympics allows more coverage of many of the sports, but rarely do we see much, if any, of the equestrian events. This is what needs to change, in all of the equestrian disciplines, but they do not need dumbing down, such as shortening dressage tests. Instead of doing that, one possibility would be to show the top five or ten competitors in each discipline.


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