Americas Dressage Reacts Strongly Against FEI Olympic Qualifying Proposals

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Caledon Equestrian Park that will host the 2015 Pan American Games and where the International Equestrian Federation has proposed only one nation can win a berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, the first Games ever to be held in South America.
Caledon Equestrian Park that will host the 2015 Pan American Games and where the International Equestrian Federation has proposed only one nation can win a dressage berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, the first Games ever to be held in South America.

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Canada and Mexico have reacted strongly against Olympic qualifying competitions proposed by the International Equestrian Federation, while the United States has taken a wait-and-see approach to changes that would effectively reduce opportunities for nations in the Americas to compete at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the first ever to be staged in South America.

Despite an increase for dressage to 60 horses and riders from 50 combinations at the 2012 Olympics, the same draft proposal from the FEI reduces to one nation only instead of two in the past qualifying at the Pan American Games that provides the greatest opportunity for a Latin American nation to earn a start at the Games. Brazil, as the host nation, is automatically provided a berth in all 28 sports and that privelege typically is not factored into qualifying procedures.

The same proposal provides for three countries to be able to win Olympic qualification through the World Equestrian Games in Normandy in 2014–the same as in 2010 when the Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany were the top three finishers, and the United States booked reserved a start in London because Great Britain was the host nation and automatically in place.

One counter suggestion from some in the United States proposes increasing the WEG qualifying number to four that might benefit Canada or the United States if they finish in the top four, otherwise both countries will be competing against each other and the rest of the Americas for a single Olympic team slot. If no team from the Americas qualifies at WEG, only the single gold medal nation from the region will be at Rio, except for host Brazil.

The fight against the proposed qualification procedures will be taken to the second annual FEI Sport Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland in three weeks which the sport’s governing body bills as “offering a unique opportunity to contribute on topics key to the future of the entire sport.”

Paradoxically, the FEI Sport Forum at which the Olympic qualification is probably the headline feature is being held the same week as only the second ever non-championship Nations Cup in the Western Hemisphere is being staged in Wellington, Florida, in a unique format designed to raise the level to Grand Prix from Prix St. Georges at the Pan American Games, the second largest multisport event in the world after the Olympics. The 2015 Pan Ams will be held in Toronto.

“We are not pleased with this change at all and the logic behind the change does not make any sense,” Mike Gallagher, president of Equine Canada, told dressage-news.com.

Maribel Alonso, the sole FEI 5*–top ranked–judge from Mexico and active in equestrian sports globally, described the proposal as a “psychological blow” to efforts to grow high performance throughout the Americas and gave a detailed analysis of the proposed qualifying procedures.

The United States is sending James Wolf, Executive Director of Sport Programs to the Sport Forum, and, said U.S. Equestrian Federation President Chrystine Tauber, “will see what results from that session.”

Maribel Alonso, who has been a driving force behind efforts to raise Pan Am qualifying to Grand Prix, told dressage-news.com that raising the dressage quota to 60 combinations “is wonderful” but “losing a team slot for this continent is far from being what we would have liked to hear.”

 Maribel Alonso de Quinzaños. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Maribel Alonso de Quinzaños. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“Brazil is already qualified as the host country,” she said, “but that is always the case. We thought that because of that we could have a bigger American representation on this one and only ocassion the Games will take place on American soil.

“It has never been the case in the past that due to the geographical  location of the host country the slots to qualify for the continent from which the host country belongs, are modified or, as in this case, reduced .

“I fail to understand that the geographical location has to have an impact on the number of possible qualifying  slots when this was not the case  for the past Games.

“I  also find it difficult to understand that if universality is the cornerstone of the Olympic Games and all countries should have the same number of opportunities in this proposal two other situations have caught my attention.-

“1) The FEI is choosing  to give an extra possibility to Group C (Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia) when they can qualify through WEG and through the European Championships.

“2)  And… that the one best ranked team from Olympic Groups F and G (Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia and Oceania) at the 2014 WEG plus the one best ranked team from Olympic Groups F or G at the FEI-approved special qualifications even excluding the team qualified before.”

Maribel said it was difficult to compare different FEI geographc groups as some were very active in the sport while others were barely involved.

Her analysis of ranked riders showed, for example, the proposal gives Southeast Asia/Oceania (Group G) comprise three countries with the possibility of fielding teams in qualifying events to fill two available slots and both Groups F and G have an individual place.

However, North, Central and South America that sent 12 national teams and three individuals to the 2011 Pan Ams “will have only one clear possibility” to get a team slot and two individuals at the 2016 Olympics.

“For the American continent this slot reduction means a lot>’ she said. “I understand that the number of international ranked riders on this side of the world is quite small compared to Europe but everybody is working to improve it. It is specially important for the American continent to have a better opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games, the ultimate sporting goal.

“It is important because nowadays many other sports want to be included in Continental and Olympic Games, and some of them are more popular and cheaper to organize.

“We have fought hard to keep the interest of the NOCs (national Olympic committees) to support dressage. Pan Ams qualifying possibilities represent a parachute for some of the strong countries of this continent that otherwise would not have been in London.

“The FEI  Dressage Committee has been encouraging the American continent to reach the next level. Groups IV, V and VI  (North, Central and South America) have been trying to motivate riders to invest in horses, in better training and to compete internationally.

“All these in times when the worldwide economic situation is uncertain the steps taken might seem very small. In my opinion it is far from that.”

To remain motivated, Maribel said, “we need to keep the spirits high.”

“This proposal is a psychological blow to the project. However things will keep evolving and who knows what the future will bring. We might end up finding the beginning of a more promising future in dressage for all the Americas.”