On picture above: Kevin Staut, Christina Liebherr, Eleonora Ottaviani, Steve Guerdat. Image credits © Fabio Petroni / ijrc.org
The controversial Olympic format changes made at FEI General Assembly in Tokyo are continue to be a stumbling block between the FEI and the equestrian athletes from many countries.
The FEI is forced to limit Olympic teams to three riders due to decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to set the maximum number of horses and riders allowed at the Olympics in the three Olympic equestrian disciplines to 200 athletes.
The main opposition against such move of the FEI is International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) as its members include most of the world’s top riders. The IJRC published its proposal on Olympic format reform on 16 November 2016 here:
It should be noted that of the 134 federations, 60 do not organise equestrian events, around 17 do not have riders and 26 do not have horses.
Fewer than 44 nations have riders who compete at an international level in show jumping events.
Mathematically speaking, it can therefore be affirmed that the majority of show jumping nations with eligible riders and horses is around 40 nations which have a realistic chance of being represented at the Olympic Games.
The Athletes strongly suggest that 12 (or 13 or 14) teams of 4 riders should be permitted to participate at the Olympic Games. More space could therefore be given to individuals – 27 (or 23 or 19) riders – allowing a larger number of nations to compete than presently.
Final debates on Olympic format proposal were discussed at the FEI General Assembly in Tokyo on 21 November 2016.
The key proposals for change across the three Olympic disciplines – Jumping, Dressage and Eventing – and Para-Equestrian Dressage at the Paralympics are to have three athletes per team. The drop score, which previously allowed for a team’s worst score to be discarded, would be removed under the new proposals.
On 22 November 2016 the delegates from 96 represented National Federations voted in favour of the proposed format changes. 11 National Federations voted against the proposal – Albania, Bulgaria, France (team gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics), Germany (team bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics), Latvia, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Romania and Switzerland.
A few days later it became known that votes of some National Federations were made despite the opinions of their riders. The voice of athletes has been ignored by representatives of some NFs and the FEI.
Particularly, members of the 2016 Canadian Olympic show jumping team have spoken against the vote cast by the Canadian delegation at the FEI General Assembly.
The International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) have also commented on their disappointment with the result of the vote. The IJRC President Christina Liebherr from Switzerland (who voted against the proposals) said: “The IJRC are sad that the voice of more than two hundred top athletes, trainers and chef d’équipe count less than political issues. We spent two years coming up with with proposals in accordance to IOC guidelines but without success (as these have been disregarded).”
Game of democracy and majority voting in fact kill the sport.
Face-to-face communication between the FEI and the top riders was held at the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) General Assembly on 9 December 2016 in Geneva.
The FEI President Ingmar De Vos has been invited and he just ignored this invitation. His back was covered by his faithful assistant – Secretary General Sabrina Ibanez.
She attended IJRC meeting and she was sitting in front of “angry athletes” including some top names like 2012 Olympic Champion Steve Guerdat.
Looking straight into the eyes of Sabrina Ibanez, Steve Guerdat accused the FEI in disrespecting the riders and making them “look like clowns.”
Several days after this meeting, the Jumping Owners Club (JOC) joined this debate and also expressed its disappointment and concern regarding Olympic format changes in an open letter to the FEI.
The JOC President Christian Baillet expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of consultation (despite FEI protestations to the contrary) before the changes were voted on.
Accusation of a lack of respect towards the riders and communication gap between the FEI and the riders is an alarming signal for the FEI President.
Large group of the riders feel completely sidelined by their own national federations and the FEI. “What the national federations are doing, does not reflect the riders’ opinions,” continued IJRC Director Eleonora Ottaviani.
Big equestrian nations such as France, Germany and The Netherlands – that have a total of 13.141 riders competing at a higher level and a national federation membership masses totaling 2.180 000, not to forget a total of 21.270 horses registered – each has the same vote as nations without a single athlete or registered horse. However, such huge equestrian nations are out-voted by the many smaller ones regardless of the fact that the latter neither have athletes nor horses competing at international level.
French show jumper Kevin Staut urged all to take an active part in order to reverse the decisions taken. Staut said the riders should communicate their position through social media and the press. “I hope our position will be communicated and listened to,” he said.
The time has come for all equestrian athletes to express their word against those changes.
Fair Endurance has received an open letter from some riders.
What has not been said, it should be said right now.
The executive officials of the FEI and some NFs forgot that the FEI and NFs must be at the service of athletes, and not vice versa.
The President and the Secretary General of any Federation can be replaced like spare batteries. They come and go, and the athletes are continue to live under the new rules.
Did you ever take a look behind the eyes of the rider? You’re playing the political games, you’re creating the rules and the changes, even if you have never sat on a horse.
Your ignorance of our voice will kill the sport and then will destroy the FEI itself, because the FEI is nothing without us.
We are riders, we make the sport, not the FEI, and we want to be respected.
It’s not a game anymore. We are riders, and this is our manifesto. You may ignore one rider, but you can’t ignore us all…