Olympic Format Proposal Cutting Teams to Three Combinations From Four Triggers Lengthy FEI Sports Forum Debate

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Frank Kemperman. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Frank Kemperman. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, April 5, 2016–Cutting the size of dressage teams to three horses and riders from four at the 2020 Olympic Games as a way of increasing the number of nations participating appeared to win support at the FEI, International Equestrian Federation, Sports Forum Tuesday. A similar proposal for jumping received mixed responses but was opposed in eventing unless the format of the competition was changed.

The impact on dressage with 60 of the 200 places allocated for the three equestrian sports would mean, said Frank Kemperman, chair of the FEI Dressage Committee, that 15 nations instead of the current 10 could field teams plus 15 individuals. That would further the Olympic goal of increasing universality–the number of different nations. However, the proposal for dressage would include a reserve horse that would be a substitute for a horse that had to withdraw for health or other reason for a team of three pairs.

Frank, who is also show director of the Word Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany that hosted the 2006 World Games, noted that dressage had experience with teams of three, at both the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games. The number of places allocated for dressage this year was increased to 60 from 50 previously.

“I agree 100 percent how important it is for smaller nations to have athletes at the Olympic Games,”said Frank, who is also an FEI executive board member. “It is the best shop window for our sport.”

With three horses and riders on dressage teams, the most widely held view appeared to be no score would be dropped as is provided in World Games, Nations Cups and this year’s Olympics.

Many delegates, however, spoke out in favor of maintaining the current World Games and Europea Championship format of four combinations on teams with three scores counting for the team competition.

John Madden, FEI 1st vice president and chair of the jumping committee, stressed that decisions were not being made at the forum. The technical committees wanted to hear different opinions to be considered before final drafts of formats were decided by national federations.

“Universality we have control over,” John said. “It’s simple math. We have 200 spots and 40 National Olympic Committees at the moment. With the proposals on the table, we still have 200 spots and we can increase the number of flags to about 55. Three per team gets us 25% more.”

The debate on formats of the 2020 Olympics and the World Equestrian Games in Bromont, Canada in 2018 came after the FEI unveiled a new global promotion campaign for equestrian sports–“Two Hearts”–to focus on the partnership of horse and rider with the aim of keeping horse sports in the Olympics.

Based on feedback at the Sports Forum and submitted in writing, the dressage and other technical committees would draw up new proposals to be sent to national federations in mid-July for comment. Final drafts would be presented to the FEI General Assembly for a vote at its annual meeting in November.

Tim Hadaway, the FEI director of championships and games, provided a backdrop by setting out the goals of gender equality, universality meaning more flags represented to make horse sports more attractive and more easily understood by a younger and broader based audience.

Ingmar de Vos, FEI president, said: “We need to understand we are not doing this because we like it but we are doing this because we have to do it.”

The dressage draft proposal called for three competitions of the Grand Prix, Special and Freestyle with the individual competition decided before the team event, the opposite of recent Olympic formats.

Will Connell,the U.S. Equestrian Federation sports director, asked for the Grand Prix Freestyle deciding individual medals to be the last event in dressage because of its popularity.

John Madden caused a minor stir when he said that people who argued that increasing participation could “ruin the quality of the sport are just arrogant.” He later apologized for the use of the word “arrogant.”

Frank Kemperman said he agreed how important it is for smaller nations to get participants into the Olympics. A decision that would have to be made was whether the sport would be served best by more teams or more individuals.

“We don’t want to sacrifice individuals for the teams,” he said.

He said that in Athens in 2004 teams comprised for combinations and there was a total of 18 flags. Eight years later in London there was a total of 24 team and individual flags.

Representatives of China and Saudi Arabia argued that including more nations helped boost the sport–the Saudi team won bronze in London while China was allocated teams as the host that helped the grow horses sports from a tiny sport to 10,000 horses now.

Austria went further and made the suggestion of a substantial increase in individual riders and cutting the number of teams to somewhere between five and eight instead of the 10 directly allocated this year.

Mariette Withages of Belgium, who was chair of the FEI Dressage Committee that implemented teams of three in 2008, said, “I think if we have three on a team it’s pretty clear we don’t need a drop score. People don’t understand why somebody stands close to the podium and may win a medal but has no performance. It’s part of transparency.”