Friday, May. 24, 2024

FEI Sports Forum Tackles Welfare, Tech, Endurance Rule Revisions

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“The [International Olympic Committee] president once told me that our sport and federation is by far the most complicated one in the Olympic movement,” Fédération Equestre Internationale President Ingmar De Vos said in his opening remarks at the FEI Sports Forum, held April 24-25 in Lausanne, Switzerland. “We have two athletes, six different sports and consequently the biggest variety of stakeholders that have a keen interest in what the FEI does. So having an open dialogue with all parties involved is key for the success of our sport and to make sure that what we decide is relevant.”

The FEI Sports Forum has been held annually since 2012, helping “community consultation [to] become the norm,” De Vos continued. “I believe we can say that we are in a constant ‘state of consultation.’ It became an integral part of how we operate, and this is probably also why the FEI is considered to be a leader in governance, but also why we as a sport have been able to overcome challenges so effectively.”

Ingmar De Vos, president of the FEI, addresses the Sports Forum. FEI Photos

Chief among those is the continued focus on horse welfare and well-being, which was the focus of the forum’s first day. “Confirming and strengthening our social license to operate is probably the most important challenge of this century,” De Vos said. “If our relationship with horses, and consequently our sport, wants to remain acceptable in broader society, and if we want to ensure a sustainable future, we need to re-explain and re-establish the essence of our relationship with horses.”

Welfare Is Front And Center

The first day’s sessions started with a presentation by the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission, which issued an interim report on its work to date. The commission put forward 24 draft recommendations to ensure a what they’ve termed a “Good Life for Horses” in equestrian sport.

The recommendations—which include measures that the FEI and the wider equestrian community can take to achieve higher standards of horse welfare through individual and collective responsibility, trust, transparency, reactiveness and independent evaluation—generated an enthusiastic level of discussion and feedback in the discussions that followed. This was the first time the EEWB Commission held in-person consultations with the wider equestrian community on its work and findings since it was created by the FEI in June 2022.

“The Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission’s proposal for a welfare-centric FEI vision for sustaining equine participation in sport now and into the future, aims to address ethical concerns related to equine involvement in sport as well as during a horse’s lifetime,” said Natalie Waran, PhD, BSc (Hons), chair of the commission.

“We hope that the vision of a ‘Good Life for Horses,’ and the associated draft recommendations, which have been informed through research and engagement with the equestrian community and the public, will help inform and inspire a positive direction, and we look forward to engaging further at the FEI Sports Forum. Through accepting this vision for the future, we believe the FEI will have a solid starting point to effect real change in equestrian sports’ mindset and practices.

“This vision and these draft recommendations, as well as the FEI charter, are just a starting point to affect change across equestrianism. They have been created primarily around the concept of providing our horses with a good life and the responsibility we all have to deliver on that. This will require the long-term commitment of not just the FEI but all who want horse sports to have a bright future.”

New Tech Offerings

In Monday’s second session, entitled “TechQuestrian—Going for Gold,” the FEI’s Technology and Sports Services department presented a wealth of technology enhancements across 10 of the FEI’s 36 digital platforms.

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They highlighted their digital solutions, including the FEI World Challenges platform, FEI Database, and FEI HorseApp. Some of the new features presented include comprehensive horse registration data protocols, horse document management and vaccination recording, tools which aim to streamline processes for national federations, horse owners and athletes. 

Updates to the FEI Entry and Invitation systems were also introduced, and the much-awaited launch of the online schedule for show jumping will occur in May. These updates will help the management of competitions and entries, making it easier for organisers and participants to navigate the scheduling and registration process.

Francisco Alves, IT project manager in the FEI’s Technology and Sports Services department, discusses new tech offerings from the organization.

One of the highlights of the session was the announcement of a progressive roll-out of equine influenza vaccination recording for all FEI horses using the FEI HorseApp. 

The initiative is aimed at enhancing horse health management and biosecurity measures. The FEI is currently working on a new feature for the existing HorseApp that will help veterinarians and horse-owners better manage and keep track of all vaccination requirements.

With this new system, FEI veterinarians will be able to enter vaccination information directly into the app, and also access information on the vaccination status of any horse at an event, including details such as administration date, batch number and validity. 

In order to address connectivity issues at stables and events, the FEI announced it is working on an “offline mode” feature that can be used without Internet access. This will launch with the new vaccination module and later spread to the other HorseApp functionalities. 

There will be a pilot phase in 2023 and a progressive rollout throughout 2024, with all FEI horses projected to have influenza vaccination details on the HorseApp by 2025.

The FEI RuleApp and the newly launched FEI TackApp were also introduced as key resources for athletes, their support personnel, FEI officials and horse owners, providing easy access to information on permitted tack and equipment for FEI disciplines.

In particular, the FEI TackApp was launched as the go-to destination for all pieces of tack and equipment related to horses and athletes for all FEI disciplines. The app is a living platform that will be updated regularly to provides a comprehensive, user-friendly database of tack and equipment, making it convenient for athletes to ensure compliance with FEI regulations.

Tying all this innovation together is the brand new FEI Hub, which was unveiled as a central place where users can access all FEI online platforms, providing a seamless and convenient experience for the equestrian community. With a user-friendly layout that’s based on the periodic table of the elements, it showcases all FEI platforms and apps.

“These cutting-edge tools and resources are designed to support our athletes at every level of the sport, and we are committed to providing innovative solutions that promote horse welfare and streamline processes,” said Gaspard Dufour, director of technology and sport services. “It’s all about making our sport better for everyone involved, and we are excited about the possibilities these new platforms bring.”

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Costs And Prize Money In Show Jumping

Day 2 began with a discussion of the financial situation around prize money requirements in show jumping, including the current discrepancy in the conversion system. A new proposed system for 2024 was presented, which would see the FEI break away from the Swiss franc and establish the euro as the new base currency, with the U.S. dollar as the second currency, and set at today’s exchange rate of 1.10.

A second proposal around the introduction of a minimum prize money requirement for CSI1* also generated significant debate, as it was deemed unrealistic for most regions outside of Western Europe, and the U.S. FEI Jumping Committee Chair Stephan Ellenbruch reassured delegates that the FEI Jumping Committee would seek to find solutions that are workable for all regions of the world.

Entry fees and the costs associated with rising mandatory fees were also discussed, with youth and accessibility to the sport as key talking points. For the panelists and the delegates, these discussions ultimately required each stakeholder group to ask themselves what they want for the sport, its future and the accessibility for young riders and developing equestrian nations to the upper echelons of the sport.

Endurance Rules Revision

The last session of the FEI Sports Forum 2023 was dedicated to the FEI endurance rules, which this year are undergoing full revision.

Christina Abu-Dayyeh, FEI director of endurance, outlines proposed rules changes.

The session included a presentation of the main proposals made by a panel consisting of the chair of the FEI Endurance Committee Christian Lozano, deputy chair Sarah Coombs and FEI endurance director Christina Abu-Dayyeh.

“This process has attracted strong interest from the community, and proposed rule changes have been received from over 20 National Federations,” Lozano said in his introduction. “We are always seeking to improve and better protect horse welfare as well as find systems to reward positive action. The modifications presented today go in that direction.”

The FEI Endurance Committee will incorporate feedback from the sports forum as it finalizes the proposed rule changes, which will go to a vote of the General Assembly in November.

Watch archived videos of each day’s sessions on the FEI website.

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