FEI Sports Forum 2015: Dressage and Eventing Sessions Discuss Proposed Format Changes

Frank Kemperman, Chair of the FEI Dressage Committee, addressed the FEI Sports Forum 2015 today at the IMD in Lausanne (SUI) (Photo: FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber)
Frank Kemperman, Chair of the FEI Dressage Committee, addressed the FEI Sports Forum 2015 today at the IMD in Lausanne (SUI) (Photo: FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber)

The Chairs of the Dressage and Eventing Committees, Frank Kemperman and Giuseppe della Chiesa presented the proposed format changes for their individual disciplines in the two afternoon sessions at the FEI Sports Forum. Frank Kemperman, Chair of the FEI Dressage Committee, opened the session dedicated to the future of the discipline by emphasising the fact that Dressage is in a good position, especially thanks to the Freestyle, but there were strong signals from the IOC that change is needed, particularly the sport’s appeal to the media. Kemperman outlined the discipline’s goal to be one of the main equestrian sports and highlighted the necessity to unify formats at the Olympic Games and main championships, to attract new spectators, sponsors and generate increased media interest while maintaining the core value of Dressage, the well trained horse.

“We need to come up with a single format for Olympic Games, World Equestrian Games and Championships so that the public can more easily understand our sport”, Kemperman said. “Most importantly, we have to be open to innovation and learn how to make it better. There is a young public out there and we need them, they have iPhones and iPads and they follow everything ‘in the moment’ online - that’s their world, and we must be part of it,” he said.

Repucom Survey
A survey conducted in the autumn of 2014 by Repucom, which specialises in market research, media evaluation and commercial auditing, found that:

• New and shorter formats are crucial, as are commentary and graphics on television
• Key events should be actively used to attract new audiences
• Modernisation and increased freedom of dress code and music should be actively considered
• Human interest stories in media would broaden interest
• Modernisation should be handled carefully in order to retain the core dressage fans

The Repucom survey also established that 86% of those surveyed are attracted to Dressage by its beauty, the relationship between horse and rider, the horse itself, as well as the sport’s grace, elegance, aesthetics and fun, with only 24% interested because of concepts including discipline, control and training.
 
Proposed Change to Olympic Games Format:
Proposed changes to the Olympic Games format, which can be read in full here, were detailed for consideration by the Forum. They included teams of three or potentially two combinations, shorter tests, Pas-de-Deux or Pas-De-Trois.

The positives of these proposals were considered to be a larger number of nations, which would increase universality, and separate individual and team competitions. The removal of the drop score would increase drama and entertainment and contribute towards more unpredictable results.

The negative aspects would include a possible decrease in the level of excellence as top nations may bring fewer participants, and significant consequences for the team if a horse was eliminated or disqualified.

The proposal was also that formats for the FEI World Equestrian Games™ and European Championships should match the Olympic Games format.

Greater interaction and explanations on the sport, social media, use of music during tests other than the Freestyle, length of tests, formats, quotas, open scoring, a redefined dress code, lifestyle stories, higher prize money, more attractive prize giving ceremonies and the involvement of young riders, were outlined as likely to have a positive impact on the attractiveness of the discipline.

Discussion
The presentation was followed by a lengthy discussion, with representatives of the Dressage riders, trainers and organisers’ clubs, the National Federations of Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States, as well as the European Equestrian Federation, making contributions.

The main topics raised during the discussion were judging, dropping of highest and lowest scores for each movement, open versus running scores at major events, change in dress code and the increased use of social media. Protecting the welfare of the horse at all times was highlighted, and the creation of a video handbook was also discussed.

Giuseppe della Chiesa, Chair of the FEI Eventing Committee
Giuseppe della Chiesa, Chair of the FEI Eventing Committee

Evolution of Eventing
The evolution of Eventing was the focal point of today’s second afternoon session. Charles Barnett, former Chief Executive of Ascot Racecourse, opened the session with an overview of key findings from his independent review of Eventing in the context of the Olympic Games, covering safety, risk management and widening the appeal of the sport from an on-site spectator and television viewer perspective.

Barnett’s final research project, which will thoroughly review the safety aspects of the sport through detailed analysis from FEI competitions and National Federations, will be delivered to the FEI in November of this year.

Giuseppe della Chiesa, Chair of the FEI Eventing Committee, then took the stand to open the session focusing on the future of Eventing.

“Eventing is not new to change”, he said. “We have already undergone major changes relatively recently to accommodate the Olympic challenges of cost, space and complexity. As with the other Olympic disciplines, we are now proposing new ideas to meet the Agenda 2020 objectives. We need to explore ideas and be prepared to adapt if the time comes that we need to change.”

Several proposals were laid out for Eventing, with the principle of harmonising with the proposals for Jumping and Dressage in order to develop a coherent Olympic Equestrian programme. The detailed proposals are available here.

The positive aspects of the proposals were highlighted from the perspective of the IOC’s core values of universality, excellence and spectator engagement, including more country flags for teams and emphasis on the value of Team effort; shorter competitions with more exciting and open results; no extra competition days; improved qualification structure, culminating in the “Olympic dream” being more easily accessible to smaller nations.

The adverse aspects of these proposals were also made clear: less flags for Individuals; increased cost of Cross Country with courses for two levels; best riders potentially not competing in Team competition; Team members not starting if previous teammates have failed to finish.

Further points raised in this session included separating the FEI Classics 4* circuit (individuals) from Olympic and Championship circuit (teams), and increasing qualification requirements for participation on the 4* FEI Classics (individual) circuit.

Reviewing Cross Country penalties (refusals; knocking obstacle flags) and saddlery (Cross Country bits) was also raised, alongside considering the development of indoor arena Eventing, and looking closely at whether Eventing needs a globally recognisable descriptor to ensure the sport is easily understood by a mainstream audience.

Several discussions followed the Eventing session, with the Eventing Rider’s Association and the Australian, British, Dutch, German and Irish Equestrian Federations focusing on the strength of the Cross Country phase for audience impact, the need for consistent 3* or 4* Eventing, the team/individual split and the importance of underlining the FEI’s “Olympic” equestrian athletes.

The FEI Eventing Committee highlighted that all points raised during the FEI Sports Forum 2015 will be further discussed in Open Forums taking place during 2015 at the Pan American Games in Toronto (CAN), at the Olympic Groups F&G meeting at Boekolo (NED) and at the FEI European Eventing Championships at Blair Castle in Scotland (GBR).

Delegates at today’s Eventing session were urged to continue the discussions online at the dedicated FEI online platform here.




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