Calls were made for standardised training materials and the need to instill in officials the importance of horsemanship as delegates got talking on the opening day of this year’s FEI Sports Forum.
The opening sessions in Lausanne, Switzerland, were dedicated to FEI officials, their career pathway, remuneration and education.
Sessions provided the opportunity to debate key questions related to the involvement of the national federations, costs, calendar and geographical spread, standards and strategies around officials and their roles.
“The officials are a group of people that play an important role in our sport and without whom our sport would not be possible,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said.
“Our officials are in the frontline when it comes to preserving integrity and ensuring that a level playing field is maintained.”
The first session debated the optimal career pathway for FEI officials, promotion, demotion, and sanctions. There was also discussion on ways to measure the quality of officiating and whether there should be an age limit for FEI Officials.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Vicki Glynn called for the removal of the age limit for FEI Officials.
“Legally, it is age discrimination,” she told delegates.
“The age limit must be removed. We are one of only two organisations that retain age limits for officials. We should put a more effective evaluation process in place and like many countries do when renewing drivers’ licenses, you need to have an eye sight test, medical test.”
Delegates raised the importance of educational support from the FEI to increase the level of understanding of the sport among officials, and the correct application of FEI rules. There was consensus that training and education were crucial to the development and understanding of the sport.
“People need to learn to follow procedures, judges need to learn that, but one thing we cannot miss is the horsemanship these people should have,” Olympic showjumping champion Steve Guerdat, of Switzerland, said.
“Yes, we need rules; the rules are black and white, but we must not forget we have a horse in our sport, a living animal, and the officials must understand the importance of horsemanship.”
The second session gave delegates the chance to raise questions on the involvement of national federations in educating officials, balancing costs without impacting quality, and focusing on standards and education strategy.
Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation secretary general Maarten van der Heijden called for standardised education material, and underlined the willingness of his organisation to share its own material for use by the FEI and other national federations for education purposes.
Guerdat voiced his view: “The riders want to have good judges so we can stay on a level playing field and look after our horses; we want clean sport and we want good judges.
“Unfortunately, we need to find money and I understand it’s very expensive. On my point I would have absolutely no problem giving away part of the prize money, but I’m sure I’m one of the few riders.
“There’s a lot of pressure on those people; they have big decisions to take. We could maybe help them by creating a kind of panel to help them take the big decisions. It shouldn’t only be the steward and judges. Maybe have a vet, a rider, an independent person for the panel.”
Fellow panellist Rocio Echeverri weighed in on the remuneration debate.
“I really don’t believe that someone who does it on a voluntary basis is more or less professional. As an official, I’m 100 per cent committed whether I get paid or not. Getting more money doesn’t make us better officials. It’s about ethics. Payment does not make a better official in my opinion.”
Wayne Channon, the only person to voice the view that all judges should be appointed by the FEI, said: “We don’t want to sacrifice quality to get quantity, or sacrifice quality for expense. Quality is an investment.”
Other delegates spoke in favour of retaining the split between organising committee and FEI appointments, suggesting that payment should come from whichever body appointed the officials.
Concern was expressed by several delegates for both the less developed nations and the non-Olympic disciplines. “Don’t forget the smaller disciplines that are less professionalised and with less prize money. These athletes deserve well educated officials, too,” van der Heijden said.
President De Vos, in his opening address to delegates, said openness and transparency were vital as matters were being discussed that would probably affect the future of horse sport.
“By coming together to share experiences and to discuss the future, we are showing our strength and unity as a sport and our willingness to lead and not be led.”
Horse sport would not be possible without officials, he said. “Our officials are in the frontline when it comes to preserving integrity and ensuring that a level playing field is maintained.”
The two-day forum has attracted a record number of 320 delegates, with representatives from the International Olympic Committee, national federations, the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, stakeholders, sponsors, riders, trainers, media, volunteers, guests and FEI staff almost filling the auditorium at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Business School, which has hosted the Sports Forum for the past four years.
IMD Professor Stéphane Garelli, the day’s first speaker, referenced the increasing impact of sport on the global economy. “When you look at sport, you are speaking of something that is joyful and happy. You have the privilege in sport and the FEI to bring happiness to people.”
FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez closed the first day’s sessions with a summary of the discussions.
“We can learn from other sports,” she said. “The conclusions will be brought to the Bureau and a task force will be created to look at the individual issues. We will come up with some concrete measures to present to you.”