Aunty Martha takes a back seat to Badminton

Mulry's Error plays it straight while Ben Hobday plays up for the first horse inspection at Badminton.
Mulry’s Error plays it straight while Ben Hobday plays up for the first horse inspection at Badminton last year. Cancer survivor Hobday rode at this year’s Badminton with a toy strapped to his back; Wilbury the Wonder Pony is the flagbearer of Hannah Francis’s new cancer charity. © Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials

My Facebook news feed usually provides a gripping ongoing narrative of someone’s Aunt Martha paying a visit with chocolate chip cookies, or Poopsy the poodle doing something naughty. No, Poopsy, No!!!

But for the last three days my feed has been all about the Eventing at Badminton. Michael Jung this. Toddy that. How is Blyth doing on his comeback? It is dominated by friends sharing interviews and stories.

Poor Poopsy and Aunt Martha are Yesterday’s News.

It is utterly impossible to escape the conclusion that people adore Badminton. They love Eventing when it’s showcased at its best. It’s fun, dramatic and entertaining. It’s got bling and class and horses and personalities. It has it all. In abundance.

I can understand why countries covet the team and individual Olympic gold medals up for grabs every four years in Eventing. Indeed, nations such as New Zealand target high-performance sports funding at the sport in the hope its athletes might bring home a shiny medallion or two.

But, for all that, it seems clear to all that Badminton is the true pinnacle of Eventing. It almost goes without saying that any event is in the Big League when it can command free-to-air television coverage, as the final day of jumping did on Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC.

Sam Griffiths with the hard-fought Badminton Trophy.
Australia’s Sam Griffiths with the hard-fought Badminton Trophy in 2014. © Mike Bain

When we watch Badminton, we understand why so many of its competitors and fans worry about moves toward reform that could put in jeopardy the dynamics of the discipline. Its fans argue there is nothing wrong with the product; they argue that the marketing of the sport needs to improve.

Proposed Olympic changes – in particular the reduction of teams to three – are aimed at getting more nations represented at the Games.

But I didn’t hear anyone complaining at Badminton about the lack of competitors from the Republic of Togo, or that Bhutan was again conspicuous by its absence.

And yet Badminton remains eternally popular.

So, with the Olympics less than 100 days away, attention is starting to turn to Rio.

In this part of the world, the Games largely disappear behind a pay wall on television. There will be daily highlight packages on free-to-air TV, of course, but the equestrian disciplines will fight for their share of attention against all the other sports.

But not Badminton. It shines like a beacon, showcasing all that is right about Eventing. This is truly the template for the future of Eventing.

Let’s not break the mould.

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