Since the FEI general assembly in Bahrain two weeks ago, the FEI website has featured a portrait of Ingmar de Vos, re-elected president unopposed. “The sky really is the limit” says the blurb, in a somewhat sweeping statement. Broad brush strokes are indeed the theme of Ingmar’s “road map” for his next four years.
There is not much sport-specific detail. Eventing gets mentioned once, in the context of future Olympic venue selection. Dressage is mentioned in terms of needing a title sponsor for the World Cup series – now in its second season funded wholly by the FEI after the contract serviced by Haya’s buddy Reem Acra expired. No mention of rollkur, notwithstanding the oft-repeated mantra that welfare is TOP priority.
The only thing that to me has the sky as its limit is Jan Tops’s Global Champions Tour. My word, how the Global has mushroomed during the first four years of Ingmar’s presidency – and despite the FEI, not because of it.
While bringing riches to jumpers akin to other top sportsmen, the Tour has unwittingly undermined the very Olympic participation that most senior jumpers believe their sport compromised itself to maintain. I can only comment on what I am hearing in the UK, but there have now been several championships and key Nations Cups for which Scott Brash and Ben Maher were unavailable, due to commitments to the Tour. Plenty of folks are murmuring that riders who don’t help GB qualify (as we are not there yet) should not be on the Tokyo team. Whether or not that bites off one’s nose to spite one’s face, the mindset hardly builds camaraderie.
Still, the Tour is hard to knock from a spectator perspective. Because of its pay card-related business model, a number of get-rounders are par for the course, but the cream always rises to the top. No principal class jump-off all season has been less than electrifying.
And now, significantly, the Tour moves indoors for the first time, with the new “play-off” show in Prague (December 13-16) boasting an eye-watering 12m euro (US$ 13.6m) purse. If a Global winter indoor league is being developed, more than the FEI Nations Cup is at risk.
Incredibly, there is not one mention of the E-word in Ingmar’s road map, despite endurance being the FEI’s biggest public relations/welfare problem of all time. Endurance’s “issues” are hardly top secret, why not discuss the strategy, unless there isn’t one, of course.
I wonder how motivated the FEI really is to reform endurance? By the time Ingmar’s second term ends in 2022, endurance could well have left the FEI family. The FEI showed how easily it can side-line a discipline for which it believes there is little hope, with its reining decision last month. That caught everyone – except the tiny handful who do reining under FEI rules – by surprise.
A couple of months ago, German colleague Gabriele Pochammer spotted changes in FEI statutes enabling it to more easily eject a discipline – is the severance with the US’s main reining bodies just a first step?
And if the FEI does not chuck endurance out, its odds-on endurance will remove itself. One thing uniting the disparate types of endurance practitioner is the hurt and betrayal over Tryon, as raw today as it was at the WEG.
How much does FEI rely on the emirates for funding, and would it really miss the money if endurance left the fold? Apart from providing the office building in Lausanne, we can never know how much cash, if any, donated by Princess Haya and other members of the Maktoum family has underpinned FEI HQ. Certainly Meydan openly sponsors all major endurance rides, partly because few others can afford it but also because most other uber-rich would not touch endurance with a bargepole. I can’t somehow see FEI HQ daring to tap the Silicon Valley trillionaires now steeped in jumping for a sub toward such a troubled discipline.
Qatar is the country throwing most money at show jumping. Now the WEG format has been pensioned-off, we can surely expect a jumping world championship application from the fabulous facility in Doha sooner rather than later?
China is another treasure chest waiting to be plundered. The FEI is investing heavily in this fledging federation, providing infrastructure, personnel and digital support in Mandarin. This is the first time it has catered for a member federation though its own language, rather than English.
Arguably the FEI should demonstrate more control over what it has already got before encouraging equestrianism in a vast land mass. One well-travelled official tells me that in the more remote parts of China, veterinarians mostly dispatch field-of-play casualties with potassium chloride. It is not a very comfortable end. This substance is only used for euthanasia in most western countries when the animal is already under general anaesthetic.
It’s Catch 22, for if the FEI does not establish standards from the outset, developing equestrian nations are in danger of going off-piste – just as endurance did in the Middle East. I hope the recent suspension of three eventing riders in India for drugging offences is not typical of all the developing equestrian nations trying to run before they can walk. All three were sampled at the same one-star, returning a strike rate for a single competition of 75%. Yikes.
The inevitable dichotomy of the solidarity programme is that grass roots competition in “new” nations is organised by the FEI. These countries don’t have bodies like Eventing Canada or the US Hunter Jumper Association or British Dressage from whose domestic competitions the more able migrate to FEI after gaining considerable mileage and skills.
Thus we see a lowering of all FEI standards, through the invention of easier entry-level classifications. Most of us could hop over cross-country jumps from our own two feet at the new one-star level. This in turn encourages a “wing and a prayer” approach, even in countries with an eventing heritage; hardly compatible with the ongoing effort to reduce rotational falls.
Finally, after all the angst involved in agreeing the format changes that will keep equestrianism in the Olympic Games (to Paris 2024, surely?) I could hardly bear to read Ingmar’s mention of the IOC’s latest spanner in the works – a concept curiously called the “New Norm.” Among other things this will keep “costs of the equestrian competitions under control.”
Well, 200 riders and horses in three to-a-team are just as expensive to transport and accommodate as 200 riders and horses doing four to a team, and I don’t somehow think a three-star cross-country is substantially cheaper to build than whatever we’ve had to date. No wonder the vaulters are getting excited