Canada “Horrified” Over “Punitive” Proposals To Cut Olympic Qualifying Chances for Americas

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Equine Canada has told the Pan American Equestrian Confederation it is strongly opposed to an International Equestrian Federation proposal to cut to a single nation the ability for dressage and eventing to qualify for the Olympic Games through the Pan American Games.

“We were horrified to learn of this proposal,” Mike Gallagher, President of Equine Canada, said of the draft reducing Pan Am qualifying to one nation from two for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the first Olympics ever to be held in South America.

“It is nothing short of punitive to countries from the Americas.

“To suggest that we reduce the number of available qualification positions for this region will remove motivation and investment in equestrian sport, especially in developing nations within the region.”

In its letter to the Confederation, Equine Canada noted the Americas represent more than 30 per cent of all of the FEI-member countries in the world, and that it has the highest growth in FEI-level competitions among the regions.

Considerable work, the federation said, has gone into raising the standard of competition in the Pan American Games, including a test competition to take place next month in Wellington, Florida for a new format for dressage.

Canada along wth Mexico and some other Latin American nations has been at the forefront of denouncing the proposal.

The same proposal that reduced Pan Am qualification increased to four from three the number of countries that can qualify through the World Equestrian Games in Normandy in 2014 while also increasing the number of starting places for dressage at the next Olympics to 60 from 50.

The United States, the most powerful equestrian nation in the Americas that comprises two continents–North and South America–has adopted a wait-and-see approach, stating only that it will send an official to the FEI Sport Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland April 8-9 that will consider the issue.

Sharp criticism over the U.S. stance has been expressed in private by riders and officials in both the Americas and Europe for a failure by the U.S. to stand with the rest of the Americas over an issue that kills the hopes of many Latin American nations of a chance to go to the Olympics, the world’s biggest sports stage.

If no nation from the Americas is among the top four at WEG next year, only one nation will be able to qualify through the Pan Ams which will next be held in Toronto in 2015. The only other chance is if three or more individuals from a nation qualify and thus form a “composite” team for

The rationale for changing the qualifying procedures that were in place at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics was that Brazil as the host nation is automatically awarded a team slot and riders need only meet minimum qualifying scores.

“It is tremendously difficult and expensive for riders in the region to travel to competitions in other countries or to Europe,” he said.

“In spite of these challenges, results from the region have been steadily increasing. Regrettably these qualification proposals could virtually eliminate the possibility of more than one country from the Americas region qualifying for the Olympic Games.”

Equine Canada contends the proposed change does not meet the universality requirement or the geographic diversification requirement of the Olympic Games. Further it does not meet the performance requirements of having the best nations in the world represented.

“We do not understand the motivation for these changes,” Mike Gallagher said.

“At the FEI, we have come so far in the past decade in demonstrating that world class equestrian sport exists outside of Europe and that it is truly a worldwide growing sport. This change sends the exact opposite message.

“We do support the proposal that both Dressage and Eventing compete with four team members and that the top three will count.

“However, we feel it’s important that the reserve horse for Eventing be allowed to compete as an individual. A conditioned 4* Eventing horse only has the opportunity to peak and compete once or twice a year at this level, and to prepare and transport a horse to the Games with the possibility of staying in the stall, will discourage owners and riders from providing reserve horses for the team.”

Equine Canada, he said, will continue to press its position toward more equitable and inclusive qualifying criteria coming out of the Pan American Games.