Special Task Force Proposed to Study Judges, Officials’ Standards, Age Limits, Payment, Performance

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Sabrina Ibáñez, the FEI Secretary Geeral
Sabrina Ibáñez, the FEI Secretary Geeral

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, April 4, 2016–A proposal to appoint a special task force to study standards, age limits, payment and performance of judges and other horse show officials will be made to the FEI, International Equestrian Federation, following a lengthy review at the FEI Sports Forum Monday.

Among the issues for a task force to study would be the creation of a group of top judges that would be paid enough to be professionals, particularly for the Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping. Some delegates described the sports as including riders and organizers that were highly professional but a gap had developed with judges and officials that were still essentially volunteers.

Judges are typically paid €120/US$136 per day in Europe while in the United States, the National Reining Horse Association delegate noted, judges receive a per diem of up to US$500/€440 per day.

FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said that from the perspective of the governing body of international dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining, vaulting and para-equestrian “a lot of work” needs to be done and a recommendation would be made to the FEI Bureau for the appointment of a special task force.

More than 7,000 judges and officials are registered by the FEI.

Steve Guerdat, the Swiss jumping rider who was individual 2012 Olympic champion as well as back-to-back World Cup champion in 2015 and 2016, said he supported better remuneration for judges and officials even at the expense of prize money.

He also spoke out strongly against proposed changes to the 2020 Olympic jumping format to “bring in more flags… to make it more attractive.” While he agreed with the principle of more flags quality was essential and felt it was “a big mistake” to do away with the format of teams of four riders with three scores counting that “works very well” and was easy for both participants and spectators to understand.

Similar changes to do away with teams of four combinations with three scores counting are also proposed by the FEI for dressage at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Cesar Hirsch of Venezuela, a veteran of officiating at hundreds of horse shows around the world including numerous championships, pointed out an issue in countries where horse sports were not as developed or as large as in Europe or the U.S.

Because of FEI requirements for championships, he said, “some times there are more officials than horses at Games” that made the staging of events expensive.

Fellow panelist Rocio Echeverri also commented on the remuneration debate. “I really don’t believe that someone who does it on a voluntary basis is more or less professional. As an official I’m 100 per cent committed whether I get paid or not. Getting more money doesn’t make us better officials. It’s about ethics. Payment does not make a better official in my opinion.”

“We don’t want to sacrifice quality to get quantity, or sacrifice quality for expense, quality is an investment”, said Wayne Channon of the International Dressage Riders’ Club, who was the only person to voice the view that all judges should be appointed by the FEI. Other delegates spoke in favor of retaining the split between organizing committee and FEI appointments, stating that payment should come from whichever body appointed the officials.

There was also concern expressed by a number of delegates for both the less developed nations and the non-Olympic disciplines.

“Don’t forget the smaller disciplines that are less professionalized and with less prize money. These athletes deserve well educated officials too,” said Maarten van der Heijden, Secretary General of the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation.

Peter Bollen, organizer of the highly rate multi-discipline annual Christmas/New Year’s event in Mechelen, Belgium, calculated that even with the relatively low daily payment to judges, adding in travel, hotel and food costs boosted the cost to the show to as much as €300 per day per official so 10 officials for a four-day competition totaled €12,000.

A system of evaluating the performance of judges every two or three years would eliminate the need for an age limit of 70 years, a ceiling for dressage judges that can be extended by up to two years.

Vicki Glynn, Chief Executive Officer of the New Zealand Federation supported the removal of the age limit for FEI Officials.

“Legally it is age discrimination,” she said. “The age limit must be removed. We are one of only two organizations that retain age limits for officials. We should put a more effective evaluation process in place and like many countries do when renewing drivers’ licenses, you need to have an eye sight test, medical test.”

One delegate said that clear and transparent standards were important as judges were often attacked for their decisions and that led to them to protect each other.

Other ideas were to fast track experienced riders to become judges and a program to mentor less experienced officials.

An official from Finland said because of a shortage of officials his federation had trained and licensed experienced grooms as officials, a program he said had worked well with some participants because of their knowledge and understanding of both riders and FEI requirements.

Several suggestions were made to look into practices employed in other sports such as a system described by Cesar Hirsch as used by U.S. soccer and the National Football League for American football of a small staff of officials employed directly by the governing bodies who are available virtually instantly by telephone and Internet for advice and help with decisions.