Equestrian in, modern pentathlon in doubt for 2028 Olympics

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A competitor in the Modern Pentathlon of Tokyo 2020.
A competitor in the Modern Pentathlon of Tokyo 2020. © IOC/Nuno Gonçalves

Equestrian sport has been proposed for inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games, a decision which has been welcomed by horse sport’s governing body, the FEI.

The controversial Modern Pentathlon is one of three sports that are on an International Olympic Committee (IOC) “pathway” for consideration, along with boxing and weightlifting.

At the IOC’s Executive Board meeting on Friday, the initial list of 28 sports to be recommended for the LA28 Initial Sports Programme was agreed and is now subject to final approval at the IOC Session in February 2022. Discussions also focused on defining the process for finalising the disciplines in each sport offering early certainty to athletes, federations and organisers.

FEI President Ingmar De Vos said he was confident that equestrian sport, “a celebration of the unique bond between human and equine athletes”, has its place in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games programme.

Following the meeting, IOC President Thomas Bach said Modern Pentathlon’s governing body, the UIPM, will be invited to finalise proposals for a new format without the horse riding discipline, to be considered by the IOC in 2023. He described the UIPM’s “5th Discipline” process as a “critical reform”.

Bach said the UIPM proposal should “demonstrate a significant reduction in cost and complexity and an improvement across the areas of safety, accessibility, universality and appeal for young people and the general public”.

Five weeks ago the UIPM Executive Board launched a consultation process to assess options for replacing Riding with a new discipline after the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. At the UIPM Congress at the end of last month, more than 80% of National Federations voted in favour of replacing Riding.

“UIPM’s global community is ready to embrace the new opportunity presented by the IOC to futureproof Modern Pentathlon as an enduring highlight of the Olympic Games,” a statement from the organisation said.

© FEI/Christophe Taniere

At the Congress, UIPM 1st Vice-President Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, a Member and former vice-president of the IOC, said the sport was at a “defining moment”.

“In the past, we placed our defence on tradition. But the world has changed dramatically — we are in a digital era where everything is measurable and it is no good to go to the IOC with emotion and tradition,” he said.

“For new sports until recently it was almost impossible to change the program but now the programme is changing. Sports climbing, surfing, 3×3 basketball, and these sports got a lot of traction in Tokyo in the age group that is the big focus. Now we have to compete for our place with sports that are already in the programme. They are there and they have made a splash.”

UIPM Vice-President Joël Bouzou, who is also President of the World Olympians Association, said attitudes had changed in recent years. “Is it a pleasure to drop Riding from the Olympic format? No. But it is the only option. We need to look at the reality. Our sport is still being seen as unfair — too many great athletes see their hopes destroyed by the draw. The world is not waiting for us. The IOC is changing.

“I think we have incredible opportunities. We are not a sport that is ‘finished’ by definition. Pierre de Coubertin was talking about Rowing before Riding. Why? Because he was talking about skills, the complete athlete.

“For the Olympic Programme there is no choice. We make the right choice or we go to the Olympic Museum.”

Riding remains part of the sport for Paris 2024, which will be the first Games to feature Modern Pentathlon’s new TV-friendly elimination format, which enables audiences to watch all five disciplines in 90 minutes within a Pentathlon Stadium.

Olympic requirements outlined

Universality, integrity and fairness, gender equality and popularity were highlighted as key requirements of the evaluation criteria which will be used to determine the disciplines and events for the 2028 programme, in line with the recommendations of Olympic Agenda 2020+5. Athlete safety, environmental sustainability and keeping the sport relevant to youth were also reiterated as significant factors in the decision-making process.

FEI President Ingmar De Vos said the recent endorsement from the IOC following the success of the Tokyo 2020 Games “reflected on the positive changes the FEI made, highlighting our willingness to adapt and modernise our sport”.

“We had more flags. Universality was one of the key requirements in Agenda 2020 alongside making the sport easier to understand and more exciting for a broader audience – criteria which remain fundamental going forward,” De Vos said.

The IOC also published figures this week which revealed the Tokyo 2020 Games reached a global broadcast audience of more than three billion people across linear TV and digital platforms. This significant and rapid growth in the change of the digital landscape meant more fans were able to experience the Games, with greater accessibility to more content than ever before.

“The collective future of equestrian sport depends on our position in the Olympic movement,” De Vos said.

“We need to guarantee global visibility of our sport in the media and digital platforms, and continue to showcase relevant content and entice new fans. We have this opportunity every four years and consolidating equestrian sport in the Olympic Movement is crucial for the FEI and for our community.”

He said another key focus for the FEI was Youth development: “Keeping the youth engaged in equestrian sport and inspiring new generations to make the Olympic Games their goal,” he said.

“How we engage with younger generations is vital in our pathway to the future.”

The equestrian venue in Los Angeles for 2028 will have the backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains and will offer a fantastic opportunity to showcase equestrian sport, De Vos said.

The approval of the Initial Sports Programme will take place in February 2022 and the finalisation of the events and athlete quota will be confirmed in December 2024, following the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

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