FEI president looks likely to be re-elected, even without a huge Twitter following

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FEI President Ingmar De Vos, who was elected as an IOC Member at the IOC Session in Lima, Peru, on Friday.
FEI President Ingmar De Vos: It transpires that presidents can do their jobs, even without a massive following on Twitter.

Didn’t read it first on Twitter? Sad! Polish off your CVs, folks, because it’s presidential election year for the FEI.

Member nations will vote in a president for the next four years at the world governing body’s annual general assembly late this year.

The candidate process is now officially open and the FEI has published the 26 positions up for grabs, as well as the job specifications, procedures, deadlines, timelines and candidate requirements.

Heading the list is the FEI presidency, a position currently filled by the organisation’s previous secretary general, Ingmar De Vos.

Belgium-born De Vos, who replaced Princess Haya in the role, became the first paid president in FEI history.

Member nations should rejoice in the fact that they have a president who doesn’t feel the need to spend his days tapping away on his Twitter account, nor relentlessly talk up his achievements.

Hallelujah!

Countries have overwhelmingly rallied behind De Vos during his first three years in office, backing him on some controversial sporting changes that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

The key area has been Olympic reform, with a move toward a simpler format and smaller team sizes, allowing more nations to compete. Traditionalists are generally unhappy over the changes, but member nations backed the president, presumably seeing sense in what he was promoting.

It is hard to imagine any form of serious challenge, presuming De Vos seeks a second four-year term.

The only conceivable challenger might be an old-school nominee, most likely from Europe, to offer an option for those who felt the Olympic reforms were bunkum. I personally wouldn’t bet on anyone sticking their head above the parapets.

From all accounts, De Vos has been personable and engaging with member nations. He is a stickler for procedure and good governance, which I guess is mandatory in the heady world of top-level sports administration.

FEI President Ingmar De Vos and FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez (nee Zeender), at the in-person FEI Bureau meeting on Tuesday in Puerto Rico.
Ingmar De Vos with FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez.

He has shown some backbone in the FEI’s handling of the United Arab Emirates over its Endurance shortcomings (remember the provisional suspension of its membership?), although some undoubtedly feel that the governing body has not gone far enough in reining in the country’s excesses. There remain problems in this region, and I don’t doubt it will test the president’s mettle in the future.

De Vos should be in no doubt that his presidency will ultimately be judged by the wider horse sport community on his handling of several issues, and UAE Endurance is among them.

He is clearly well thought of in the wider sports community, with his election last September to the International Olympic Committee. This is quite an honour. Only 15 positions among the the IOC’s 102-strong membership are reserved for those holding executive or senior leadership positions in international sporting federations or other organisations recognised by the committee.

This role gives De Vos access to the movers and shakers of the Olympic movement and, to be frank, an international sporting federation would be collectively insane to vote out a president in such a position, particularly when your sport isn’t a top-tier Olympic discipline.

De Vos publicly spoke in support of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reform programme ahead of the FEI’s own reform initiatives, and this I believe was a factor in his election to the IOC.

De Vos has been unwavering in his position since before his elevation to the presidency. He says horse sport needs to be more accessible, exciting and easier to follow, with competition formats adapted for modern television and digital media.

I have little doubt that the main issue on which history will judge the presidency of De Vos will be his Olympic reform agenda.

Yes, the FEI endured its fair share of wrangling over the concept, and then the reality, of Olympic reform.

Most nations accepted change was needed and backed the plans to shrink teams to three and lose the drop score in the three key Olympic disciplines.

The equestrian programme for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has now been locked down, and the IOC has given the nod to the new formats agreed by FEI delegates late last year.

The IOC has also confirmed the inclusion of equestrian sport at the 2024 Games.

These are wins. But what if the formats don’t work? What if audience numbers falter, as fans show less enthusiasm for watching less dominant nations perform on the Olympic stage?

No-one knows the answer, of course, but these are real risks in my view.

And it will be a crucial measure of the De Vos presidency.

It could, of course, be an absolute triumph, with back-slaps and high-fives all round. If it’s not, the post-Tokyo General Assembly will be a very glum affair, indeed, and De Vos will have some explaining to do.

Other roles

This year’s General Assembly will see a new chairman elected to represent the powerhouse Group II countries, with Germany’s Hanfried Haring stepping down. The person holding the role will also be on the FEI Bureau.

The Group VI chairmanship (and bureau position) is also up for election, with Brazil’s Luiz Roberto Giugni eligible to stand again.

The veterinary position on the bureau is up for election, with incumbent John McEwen, of Britain, stepping down.

The position on the Audit and Compliance Committee held by Janice Shardlow is up for election. She is eligible to stand again.

The full list is here.

 

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