Olympic formats were the key topic of today’s Fédération Equestre Internationale General Assembly session in the Japanese capital. The move to go to three-member teams with no drop score across the Olympic disciplines, as well as for the Paralympic teams, was up for one last discussion before the vote tomorrow, Nov. 22.
The drop score, which previously allowed for a team’s worst score to be discarded, would be removed under the new proposals. However, the reserve combination would be able to substitute in more easily, ensuring horse welfare and creating an added element of excitement and sport. Three-member teams would also allow teas from more countries to particiapte in the Games.
Delegates at today’s session were given a final chance to debate the issues, and opinions were voiced both for and against the proposals.
Ulf Helgstrand, president of the Danish National Federation, spoke in favor of the new proposals. “We want excitement and more flags, and we have to make our sport more understandable,” he said. “Which other sport can have a medal with an athlete that’s been disqualified? We will have much more excitement if one of the top countries or riders fails.”
Natallia Kalesnikava, executive director of the equestrian federation of Belarus, commented: “We fully support this proposal. It gives a great opportunity for our country that’s been developing for the past 20 years to go to the Olympic Games. As soon as a country has the opportunity to participate in the Olympics, it has the support of its government and sponsors, the chance to promote the sport and attract more young people. With this proposal you increase the number of countries to possibly 50 that would have the chance to raise their flag at the Olympic Games.”
German National Federation Secretary General Soenke Lauterbach spoke against the three-man teams but made it clear that Germany will respect the democratic process: “We understand the desire to get more universality in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but it has to be balanced with the core principles of our sport, that we have top athletes, top level sport and in line with horse welfare requirements. We do not feel that with three per team we have the right balance of these three principles, and that is why we will vote against tomorrow, but we will accept and work with whatever decision is made.”
However, members of the International Jumping Riders Club were adamantly opposed to the no-drop-score format.
“I’m really against the new proposal for the formula of the Olympic Games with three riders, said 2016 team Olympic gold medalist Kevin Staut of France. “I’m convinced that the four riders and the formula we have, actually, is a perfect one. We had seen at the last Olympic Games in Rio that the few dramas could happen in each team, and the sport can still continue. It’s really fair for everyone, for every team, every rider and especially every horse to be four in the team. I’m really for the four riders and against the three riders.”
“I am strongly against three riders in the Olympics and the new proposal of the FEI,” said Swiss rider Steve Guerdat, who finished fourth individually at the 2016 Games and won the individual Olympic gold in London in 2012. “I think it’s a really bad thing for my sport that I really like and have supported for many years. I’ve seen great sport in the last Nations Cup, in the last Olympics, in the last championships, and I think the best of the sport came out on those occasions, and it was only possible because of the drop score, because of four riders on the team. I think the new format with three riders and no drop score is going to be a really, really bad thing for my sport. I really regret and cannot understand how people are willing to go this direction.”
The IJFC proposed an alternate format, where fewer teams compete at the Games but more individuals qualify, therefore allowing a larger number of nations to compete.
The IJFC pointed to welfare concerns regarding pressure to jump an unfit horse with no drop score. While the team alternate would be able to sub in, the IJFC pointed out that the courses increase in difficulty throughout the competition. “It is well known that the first day and the first round of the Olympics and championships do not reflect the level of difficulty on the following days,” stated the IJFC press release. “This is to avoid accidents among less experienced riders, and to allow horses to progress gradually to an increase in difficulty.
Close to 300 delegates, representing 76 of the FEI’s 134 national federations, engaged in the debate over the Olympic format. A further 31 national federations will vote by proxy, increasing the number of votes to 107.
The IJFC pointed out that of the 134 federations, 60 don’t organize equestrian events, about 17 don’t have riders, and 26 don’t have horses. There are less than 44 nations with riders who compete at an international level in show jumping events.
It’s been a two-year process of discussing and exploring proposed changes to the Olympic Format. It began after the International Olympic Committee released a road map to the 2020 Games called the Olympic Agenda 2020, and it includes 40 recommendations to protect the Games for the future. The FEI has been working to get on board with those recommendations, such as increasing universality, in order to make sure equestrian sports remain part of the Games.
The FEI hopes the proposals will make equestrian events easier to understand and packages them in a more compact format, enhancing the presentation of the sport.
These proposals will all be voted on together during the FEI General Assembly on Nov. 22, with the proposed discipline specific changes and the Paralympic revisions to be voted on separately.
Once the proposed changes have been voted on, the FEI will present them to the IOC Executive Board in February of 2017. In May, the IOC Programme Commission will make recommendations to the IOC Executive Board. Then in July, the IOC Executive Board will decide on the events and athlete quota.
At next year’s FEI General Assembly, which takes place in Montevideo, Uruguay, the FEI will finalize the proposal for qualification procedures.
“We are a sport with 134 national federations, and it’s correct that not all of them compete at elite level, but the development our sport has seen over the last decades as well as the recommendations of Olympic Agenda 2020 oblige us to focus on an increase in the number of participating nations within the existing quota,” said FEI President Ingmar De Vos. “It is of course our role to get more national federations to compete at the top level and to offer them an avenue for development. The decision is now in the hands of our national federations and whatever way the vote goes tomorrow, we will make it a success.”
The FEI General Assembly session will be live streamed on FEI TV (www.feitv.org) so that equestrian industry stakeholders and equestrian fans can watch the vote take place in real time. The FEI General Assembly starts at 9 a.m. and runs through to 4:30 Tokyo time.