Olympic Qualification Center Stage on 1st Day of FEI Sports Forum

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FEI President Princess Haya addressing FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne. (SUI) today. Also on the stage (left to right) FEI Senior Legal Counsel Mikael Rentsch; FEI Eventing and Olympic Director Catrin Norinder; IOC Sports Director and Deputy Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi; FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos, and FEI Sports Forum moderator, Richard Nicoll. © 2013 FEI/Edouard Curchod
FEI President Princess Haya addressing FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne. (SUI) today. Also on the stage (left to right) FEI Senior Legal Counsel Mikael Rentsch; FEI Eventing and Olympic Director Catrin Norinder; IOC Sports Director and Deputy Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi; FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos, and FEI Sports Forum moderator, Richard Nicoll. © 2013 FEI/Edouard Curchod

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Sports Forum opened two days of debate with the thorny issue of Olympic qualification center stage that could see only a single nation from the two continents of North and South America go to the 2016 Olympics except for host Brazil that gets an automatic reservation.

The cut to one nation from two able to qualify through the Pan American Games has been proposed while increasing the number that could earn a place through the World Equestrian Games in 2014 to four from three that favors Europe at the same time as dressage is getting a big increase in the number of riders and horses at the Olympics, to 60 from 50. The proposed increase has come at the expense of eventing which will be reduced to 65 from 75 combinations while jumping will remain unchanged at 75 to meet the Olympic limit of 200 equestrian athletes.

FEI President Princess Haya gave the opening speech to almost 300 delegates to the second annual Sports Forum being held in Lausanne, Switzerland where the FEI is based.

Ingmar De Vos, FEI Secretary General, opened the debate on Olympic qualification stressing the need to “find the best balance between universality and performance and to give equal chances to all regions” at the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The FEI initially proposed cutting qualifying through the Pan American Games to a single nation instead of two in the past and to keep WEG qualifying at three countries. It was amended to add a fourth nation qualifying through the WEG when it was reviewed a few days later by the organization’s Dressage Committee. Five of the committee’s six members are from Western Europe, though some are reported to favor reinstating a second qualifyng at the Pan Ams that are to be held in Toronto in 2015.

“We have a very clear message from the IOC that no increase on the overall quota for equestrian sport of 200 athletes will be accepted,” Ingmar De Vos said. “These are the parameters and we need to find the best balance between universality and performance and to give equal chances to all regions.

“There is no perfect solution, but it is important to have consensus within our community. The credibility of that community and of our sport depends on our ability to put aside national interests and stand together behind a unified proposal for the IOC.”

To ensure that the same number of nations can qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games, it is proposed that all three Olympic disciplines should be the same–a maximum of four riders with the three best scores to count.

The FEI reported it is now in the final phase of appointing an Olympic Games coordinator to work on future Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as World Equestrian Games and major championships.

Allocation of the quotas of 60 for dressage, 65 for eventing and 75 for jumping had been agreed by consensus and will be presented to the IOC.

However, finalizing qualification systems for each of the three disciplines does not have to be now as the final proposal first goes to the FEI General Assembly that will not be held until November.

Christophe Dubi, the International Olynpic Committee Sports Director and Deputy Olympic Games Executive Director, said last summer’s Olympics in London produced the best spectator figures ever.

Ticket sales at were at 97 per cent overall and more than 99 per cent for the equestrian events at Greenwich.

He confirmed that equestrian is part of the 25 sports recommended by the IOC Executive Board to be included on the core programme for 2020 that will be voted as a single package at Buenos Aires next September.

The host city for the 2020 Games has not yet been selected.

Harmonization across disciplines and to make equestrian sport more readily understood was important, he said.

“Harmonization is very important from an IOC perspective and for the general public,” he said. “You need to make that effort to make your sport easier to understand. You have to think about how to present your sport in the best way. Sport presentation has become a key asset, and the branding of your competition is as important as the sports presentation. That may be seen as a revolution inside the sport, but from the outside it’s seen as evolution, and it’s central to the development of the sport.”

Susanne Münstermann, OIE Chargé de Mission. ©  2013 Edouard Curchod/FEI.
Susanne Münstermann, OIE Chargé de Mission. ©  2013 Edouard Curchod/FEI.

The FEI, World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) and the European Commission spoke about improving international movement of top-level sport horses.

Graeme Cooke, FEI Veterinary Director, said the number of FEI events around the world has risen almost 30 per cent in the last five years and 2013 was expected to be the busiest event calendar in the history of equestrian sport.

“Our sport is opening up to new athletes and mass audiences like never before, and with this expansion comes jobs and revenues across continents. In order to maintain this, competition horses need to be moved across many borders more easily,” he said, “and we are working closely with the OIE and governments to establish a commonly-recognized biosecurity approach to these ‘high-health, high-performance’ horses.

Susanne Münstermann, Chargé de Mission at the OIE, explained the need to introduce a special official category for equine athletes.

“Many competition horses are now ‘frequent-flyers,’ just like their human counterparts,” she said.

“From a regulatory point of view, these competition horses enter countries as temporary imports to compete. The OIE and FEI are seeking to establish a global protocol for the movement of these horses, categorizing them separately from other horses and other animals, to make this temporary importation procedure much easier.

“We are also proposing a unique system of identification for these horses that governments can trust–a system that clearly shows they are dealing with a lower risk competition horse.”