On Tuesday November 22nd at the FEI General Assembly which took place in Tokyo, it was overwhelmingly voted in favour (96 out of 107 to be exact) to change the format of Equestrian sport at an Olympic level. The changes voted in favour of will be carried onto the IOC executive board meeting taking place in February 2017 for a stamp of approval.
What were the major changes exactly? Simply put the teams normally formulated of four riders will now be cut to three, with one reserve. In addition and personally I think the biggest game changer is there will no longer be a ‘drop score’. The drop score being what saved some nations in some cases, the worst score of a ride out of the four members within a team was dropped from the final score. So any mistake made within the three riders now could really change who gets a medal. Specific changes within each discipline can be found here.
Why have they been brought about? With Equestrian sport in the danger zone (Category D, the last category being E) there is possibility of complete removal or at least one discipline from the Olympic agenda. This was following the London 2012 games with the low broadcasting numbers compared to other sports. The FEI have realised that something needs to happen in order to save the sport and increase the global engagement. The Olympics is crucial, not just for equestrian but for a number of sports within the Olympic program. Hence why this summer during August there was a huge influx of marketing from the FEI with their their quirky videos and images, along with other equestrian blogs, magazines and websites urging fans and followers of the sport to engage online and use the hashtag #TwoHearts. The changes in addition will hopefully benefit the non-equestrian person to understand the sport whilst fitting into media schedules.
Another issue with equestrian is the cost to host the various disciplines themselves, the facilities are much bigger and extensive. Not only having to host the various events but also host the horses. Not to mention the athletes in the village! The sustainability and costs of the Olympic games to countries wishing to host/ bid is huge part of the Olympic Agenda 2020. If a host nation were to lack an affinity with equestrian sport in general unlike a nation, lets say Germany then organisers could potentially look at the sport itself and question the viability of hosting such disciplines.
My thoughts: To begin with, I personally think that it is a combination of the two. Unavoidable changes, something rather dramatic has to be done in order to further keep the global engagement within the sport at an Olympic level. It could be argued a certain ‘purity’ about the sport has been tampered with since this is for potential financial and exposure gains. However in this day and age sports resort to such revenue streams that at first may upset the teams or the hardcore fans themselves. For example within major U.S leagues the idea of selling part of the jersey to a sponsor is blasphemy. But it is now being seen within the NBA.
I can understand from both sides how those for and against this motion would feel. It has been argued that the introduction of new and upcoming nations may not be able to handle the challenges thrown at them at an Olympic level and may ‘dilute’ the competition. In addition for those in developed equestrian nations it will become harder to break the mould and achieve that Olympic level. But of course, if never given the opportunity how are these nations meant to expand and grow the sport professionally. This summer it was excellent seeing the first competitor in Eventing come from Zimbabwe, who held her own. A chicken-egg situation.
Yet, referring to the title this could be viewed to some as a desperate measure and one that is unneeded. In the past decade the times of technology, television rights and sport have changed rapidly and I think in some ways the equestrian world have taken for granted the idea that there is an already pre-made equestrian market for them and seemingly forgetting about general sport enthusiasts themselves. Plus some within this market (including me and I have been guilty as a teenager) treat the equestrian world as some sort of club per say. This view that those outside the sport don’t understand and therefore won’t ever be able to, yes it is a complex world but education is the first step in showing the how truly great this sport is. It has taken the reality check of being downgraded at the Olympic level to change how the sport presents itself globally. The idea of more flags in line to what the Olympic Agenda 2020 reiterates has the opportunity to educate new nations and inspiring younger generations.
A strength that the FEI do have though that is in favour and in line with what has been said in the Olympic Agenda 2020 (recommendation 11) is the Gender Equality of the sport. Now I say ‘equality’ this at a competitive level…further discussion around this topic will be within another blog post…not enough space or time to go into detail on this matter.
As for now it is the wait until February when the IOC Exec Board will review and approve the proposed changes. You can find the Olympic Agenda 2020 here.
Reference: Noel Floyd Magazine, Horse Talk NZ , IOC Olympic Agenda and the FEI.