There is an Olympic ring to the new Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2016 season which gets off to a flying start this week with legs in Al Ain (UAE) on Thursday 18 and Ocala (USA) on Friday 19 February.
Just five months before horses and riders set off for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, the series is set to provide the perfect platform for preparation as national team managers test, and confirm, the form of the combinations they hope to select in the battle for both team and individual Olympic glory next August.
This is the fourth season of sponsorship by Furusiyya under whose banner some dramatic changes have been made to the sport of Nations Cup Jumping which, this year, celebrates its 107th anniversary. Revitalised and reinvigorated, the spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie, along with that unique sense of national pride that sets crowds of spectators alight wherever the competition takes place, has ensured it continues to hold and even grow its appeal.
The pre-season excitement is already at an all-time high as competitors from six regions and 46 nations prepare to do battle in the 19 qualifying legs, and set their focus on the Furusiyya 2016 Final which, once again, will take place at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona (ESP) in September.
Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) stages the single leg in the Middle East and although only three countries from this region will be taking part, there is a strong line-up of 11 nations in the opening round on Thursday. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE will battle it out for the two qualifying places at the Final, while a three-strong side from Egypt will also compete alongside teams from France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Syria and Ukraine.
Qatar came out on top at this qualifier 12 months ago and could be a difficult side to beat once again this time around, but Saudi Arabian riders were in flying form in the recently-concluded FEI World Cup™ Jumping Arab League, so they are likely to present some stiff opposition.
At Ocala on Friday there is another strong entry of eight nations, but only Canada, El Salvador, Mexico and the USA are in the race for Furusiyya qualifying points in this region in which there are three qualifying events. Teams from Australia, Colombia, Ireland and New Zealand will also be in action at this second fixture of the season, and the host nation will be hoping that things go a little better for them than they did at this event last year where, in a competition full of surprises, their crack side had to settle for runner-up spot behind the Irish while Colombia and Canada shared third spot.
With McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, Lauren Hough, Laura Kraut and Todd Minikus already listed in Robert Ridland’s US squad the host country looks very strong indeed, but unpredictability is in the very nature of the sport of Nations Cup Jumping which is a major part of its attraction for fans and competitors alike.
Lummen in Belgium launches the premier Europe Division 1 league which once again will be contested by teams from 10 countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. And the host nation athletes will be feeling the pressure as defending series champions on home ground when the action gets underway on 29 April.
Europe Division 2 is arguably the toughest of all, because teams from 17 countries - Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine - will all be trying to clinch one of the top two places on the final leaderboard.
This series begins at Linz-Ebelsberg in Austria on 6 May and continues with the second leg at a new fixture in Celje, Slovenia a week later. There are seven legs in total, concluding with a visit to Gijon (ESP) at the end of August. The leading country at the end of this series will be promoted to Europe Division 1 for the following year, but while the second-placed team will earn a place at the Furusiyya Final in Barcelona only a top-eight finishing spot there will allow them to also earn promotion.
In changes to the Division 2 rules this season, National Federations do not select/declare the events at which they intend to participate for points. They can earn points at any and every event in Division 2, but can only count their four best results for the overall standings. Points will be distributed at each Division 2 event according to each team’s classification in the competition, not their classification in relation to other teams from the same region.
For more information visit fei.org