Changing Olympic Eventing could jeopardize place at Games – US officials

Mark Todd (NZL) and Major Milestone
Double Olympic gold medallist Mark Todd and Major Milestone in action. © Mike Bain

Senior American Eventing officials have cautioned the FEI against changes being considered to the discipline at Olympic level, saying such measures may actually jeopardize its ongoing inclusion in the Games program.

“Rule changes without thorough consideration and impact assessment may have the opposite effect of its original intention,” the United States Eventing Association’s board of governors said in a letter to the world governing body.

“We must constantly probe and confirm the desired outcome of proposed rule changes and carefully judge if such changes are worthwhile.

“Should the FEI move forward with all of the proposals as outlined and deviate from the recommendations as outlined by the US Equestrian Federation, the US Eventing Association and other major national governing bodies of the sport, we will need to reconsider whether risking the integrity of the sport of Eventing justifies remaining a part of the Olympic Games.”

US Eventing Association (USEA) president Diane Pitts and its president, Rob Burk, laid out the body’s concerns in a letter on behalf of its board of governors.

Its concerns largely mirror those already outlined by the US Equestrian Federation, to which it normally defers on matters relating to the Olympics and international competition.

“The USEA has chosen to respond to this invitation for input with the sole purpose of adding more voices to the chorus to ensure that the integrity and safety of the sport are not irreconcilably altered,” they said.

The Olympic proposals being considered under the FEI’s reform agenda included reducing team sizes from four to three and renaming the sport.

Pitts and Burk said the sport of Eventing was rooted in its establishment in the 1912 Olympic Games.

“As most people in the equestrian community are aware, the role of endurance in the sport was dramatically reduced with the removal of three out of the four endurance phases of the Eventing competition beginning at the 2004 Olympic Games.

“At the time some believed that this change to the sport would only impact international competitions.

“This assumption has since proven to be incorrect. To our knowledge the only competitions still featuring all four phases of the endurance portion of Eventing are at eight national events held in the United States.

“It is our deepest fear that some of the proposals recently developed by the FEI will erode the sport to the point that a test of endurance is no longer a part of this sport and may have the unintended consequence of raising the risk level for the health and safety of the rider and their mount.

“Increasing risk is the most detrimental potential outcome of this proposal.”

The pair said the USEA agreed that more work needed to be done to better market and translate the sport to the general public.

“However, those efforts should not include the dismantling of the sport to a point that it no longer embodies the principles on which it was established.”

Addressing the general issue of a proposed move to positive scoring, the pair said: “The weight of the score by test should not further erode the importance of the endurance (cross-country) phase of the competition.

“Cross-country is the heart and soul of the sport of Eventing. As described in the FEI summary document, it appears that a country could field a team of three horse-and-rider pairs and opt to skip the cross-country phase of the competition and still be considered to have completed the competition. We strongly oppose such a change as it would irrevocably harm the integrity of the sport.”

They said the proposal to rename the discipline had perhaps generated the largest negative response from its general membership.

“In the words of the USEF, ‘It is not the name but the promotion of the identity of the sport, which is linked to that name, which is more important. Is adopting a new name going to change anything or just further divide the community and confuse the public?’

The pair continued: “A substantial amount of funding would need to be spent by national governing bodies, related businesses and associations (such as the USEA) should a name change be enacted.

“Trademarks, licensing and copyrights would need to be re-established for the whole sport to realign with this name change and retain a unified marketing message on all levels. Marketing would need to be put in place to draw a connection between the sport under its new nomenclature, especially in areas where the name ‘Eventing’ has had commercial success with the general public.

“For this reason, we recommend that this change not be made without due consideration of its economic effects, and that no change be made unless and until such analysis shows it to have a potential positive economic impact upon our sport.”

Pitts and Burk also explained the association’s opposition to a maximum of three riders per nation.

“In its explanation for the proposal of limiting the number of riders per nation to three, the FEI states that its intent is to address the main objective of ‘a more open and inclusive competition’.

“It is counter-intuitive to suggest that by reducing the number of riders allowed to compete that a competition could be more open and inclusive.

“Under the current structure of four riders per team with one drop score, a nation is able supply a team of three riders. So this change simply reduces the number of riders allowed to compete and thereby limits the potential diversity of the field.

“The only actual accomplishment of limiting teams to three riders and removing the drop score is that there will be more pressure on each team to complete even in the case of an unprepared or physically compromised horse or rider. This raises huge concerns about the safety of the sport and the welfare of our horses.”

The USEA represents more than 12,000 members and well over 100,000 followers/enthusiasts within the US.

Its full letter to the FEI can be read here

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