The inaugural FEI Sports Forum opened in Lausanne (SUI) on 30 April in the presence of more than 280 delegates representing 39 National Federations (NFs), Event Organisers, International Riders, Owners and OrganisersClubs, members of the FEI Technical Committees, veterinarians, sponsors, and media. “This day marks a new beginning for the International Equestrian Federation,” FEI President HRH Princess Haya said in her opening address. “As of today, the men and women who compete in horse sport will play a direct role in its governance.
“The ideas that we share over the next three days will shape the future of our sport. For the first time, you will have an opportunity to influence the rule-making process long before proposed changes are submitted to the FEI General Assembly. As the world governing body of equestrian sport, the FEI should constantly strive to make improvements by clarifying roles, rules and procedures. But those decisions cannot be made behind closed doors by a select few. They should be discussed openly, honestly and with full transparency by those who will be most affected by the outcomes."
“I hope you will seize this opportunity to voice your opinions, to ask questions, to challenge us all to do better, so that this FEI Sports Forum and those that follow will be truly beneficial and meaningful. Thank you for the dedication you have shown in coming to Lausanne to help shape the future of our wonderful sport.”
The concept of the FEI Sports Forum, its content and the debate it generated resulted in very positive feedback from delegates and speakers alike. FEI Jumping Committee member Marco Fusté voiced the opinion of many when he said “this is the best thing the FEI has ever done”.
The discussions on the afternoon of 30 April and on the morning of 1 May were dedicated to Jumping, the largest of the FEI’s seven disciplines.
The global growth of Jumping has created a need to review essential topics to ensure the sport remains understandable, inclusive, honest, reliable and transparent while traditions are respected and development welcomed. The following topics were addressed: event classification system; invitations and wildcards; rankings; and series.
Event Classification System(ECS)
John Madden, Chair of the FEI Jumping Committee, introduced the concept of an FEI Event Classification System (ECS), a transparent long term solution which could be fully implemented by 2017 following a pilot project. The current classification of FEI Jumping Events is based solely on the level of prize money, which does not particularly encourage Organising Committees (OCs) to invest in infrastructure, in media and sponsor improvement. The Jumping Committee believes strongly that a more comprehensive evaluation of events is needed in order to offer equal opportunities to all, to ensure quality, and to regulate the use of wildcards.
The assets of an ECS would be the independent evaluation of events based on objective and measurable standards, taking into account the concerns of all stakeholders. It could enable the FEI to identify strengths and weaknesses of events clearly and to encourage event development.
An additional benefit of the ECS should be to reward excellence. Competition for licenses to fill the slots available on the calendar would equalise worldwide standards and contribute to controlling event quality.
Events not meeting the minimum requirements for their star level would receive a lower score for the event’s evaluation which could result in the event dropping down one or more star levels. However, the ECS would include a provision for arbitration to determine whether a particular issue was beyond an Organiser’s control and whether it was deemed serious enough to warrant relegation of the event to a lower star level.
In relation to the FEI calendar, the ECS would offer a free market, supported by clear and understandable data and would provide NFs and Organisers with a better ability to choose their schedule. Competition between events should be allowed and dates should be free, with the exception of the Olympic and Pan-American Games, the FEI World and Continental Championships, the FEI World Cup™ Final and possibly some events categorised as Majors.
The proposed introduction of an Event Classification System was followed by lengthy and healthy debate in which NFs, Organisers, representatives of the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) and the International Jumping Owners Club took part. Strong support for the project was expressed and resulted in a debate on details relating to the type of objective and subjective criteria chosen for the evaluation, data collection, the individuals involved, transparency, regional implications, and costs.
Emile Hendrix (NED NF) commented that it would be positive to have more professional evaluation of shows and pointed out that NFs would be interested to know how dramatic the changes linked to this new system would be and what cost implications this would have.
Peter Cooke (AUS NF) acknowledged that this was an excellent concept but urged the FEI Jumping Committee to always keep in mind regional specificities. The Chair of the Owners Club Christian Baillet insisted that transparency and communication were important in order to avoid the negative effects on event partners and the media should an event be ranked lower than anticipated. Ulf Helgstrand (DEN NF) insisted on the importance of the proper evaluation of the event’s infrastructure.
The Jumping Committee thanked the participants for their broad feedback and valuable suggestions and acknowledged that it felt empowered to proceed with further work on the proposed ECS prior to the FEI General Assembly in November.
FEI Invitation Systems and Wildcards
Marco Fusté, director of Jumping at the ESP NF, event organiser, and member of the FEI Jumping Committee, presented an overview of the existing invitation systems for 3, 4 and 5* Jumping Events. Currently there are two separate systems – one for 5* events and one for 3 and 4*. The FEI Jumping Committee put forward two options for discussion: to maintain separate systems; and to have a single unified system.
Representatives from 12 NFs, Organisers, and the IJRC expressed different points of view. The biggest point of discussion was wildcards, their number, whether their ownership should sit with the Organising Committee or the FEI, the criteria for the basis on which they are issued, and the involvement of NFs.
Wiveka Lundh (SWE NF), commented that Sweden was very lucky to have one of their riders, Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, as the world’s number one on the Rolex Rankings, and the country had four other riders in the top 100. The sport in Sweden could continue developing only if invitations issued to Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and unused by him were returned to the NF.
Terrance Millar of Canada agreed that invitations were hard to come by and he would be in favour of having a higher number of wildcards available through Organisers and the FEI. It would help NFs from all parts of the world and would allow Organisers to have global representation in their starting field. Representatives of the Australian and Saudi NFs were fully in agreement.
It was agreed that the invitation system should always be fair, transparent, and flexible giving athletes equal opportunity to reach the next level. NFs must have control of the entries of their athletes and substitution capabilities when named invitees are not available. The Organising Committee’s wildcards must always be limited; issued under clear and transparent rules, equal for all and stated in the Event Schedule and closely monitored by the FEI.
IJRC committee member Francois Mathy Jr did a presentation on the Rolex Rankings. It was generally agreed that the current system worked well as it was based on sound criteria, was easy to understand, and easy to calculate. The Rolex Rankings are updated monthly and provide useful information for the media and general public. It was however felt that the current system was too static and did not provide enough flexibility for lower-ranked athletes to move up the list. Another weakness was the fact that the current points system was based on prize money alone and did not take into account the technical difficulty of the competition.
NFs, Organisers, and representatives of the IJRC expressed different points of view on the way forward, and especially on integrating technical criteria and prize money, and on managing wildcards, while keeping the system fair and transparent and encouraging good horse management practices. Since the Rolex Rankings may be closely linked to the ECS, it was acknowledged that it was too early to discuss finer details. Delegates were reassured that before any changes to the current system are made, a number of simulations will be carried out to establish their effectiveness. All changes to the rankings system will be made with the agreement of the IJRC.
HRH Princess Haya brought the first day’s proceedings to a close. “ “The debate you’ve had today, we’ve heard your voices, and you can keep the debate going for the next five months”, the FEI President said. “From here it will go to the General Assembly. You need to influence your National Federations. This is the transparency you’ve asked for. Please have confidence in this system. It’s important that you all know, now that you’ve seen what’s on the Jumping Committee member’s desks, that you’re here to help them make the decisions.”
FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos made a detailed presentation on the existing series on the FEI calendar. All series must be approved by the FEI Bureau. The difference was explained between FEI-named series, which are created by the FEI and for which the FEI owns all the rights, and series created by other organisations and that are recognised/approved by the FEI but the FEI does not necessarily own the rights. It was emphasised that the number of series per discipline and per category should be limited in order to have a well structured calendar, to avoid date clashes and to manage horse power properly to avoid welfare issues.
The major part of the day was dedicated to an in-depth discussion of the FEI Nations Cup™. It was acknowledged that the series still attracts a good live audience and it is one of the rare high level competitions on the calendar where NFs had the possibility to enter the riders of their choice. It is viewed as agood preparation for Olympic Games and major championships and gives NFs the possibility to get support from their governments and NOCs. The FEI Nations Cup™ has been an integral part of the heritage of the sport.
However it has become evident that the format currently in use, which was created in 1964, is outdated and does not meet the needs of the sport developing outside Europe. The existing format needs to be thoroughly reviewed and revitalised to ensure universality, fair and exciting sport that will guarantee the future of the series.
The success of the FEI World Cup™ Jumping series already meets these criteria, inspiration for a revamped Nations Cup format has been drawn from it.
Under the reform proposed by the Secretary General, all NFs interested in competing would be divided into groups, preferably per region and, in order to ensure fair competition, the strongest NFs should be equally spread over the different Groups as Group Leaders. Other NFs would be added to the Groups based upon regional criteria and/or by a draw. NF teams would compete in Group events to qualify for semi-finals. A maximum of four teams from each semi-final would qualify for the Final, producing either eight or 12 teams, depending on the number of semi finals.
The Nations Cup would be the most important competition of the event with the highest level of prize money and held at primetime, media exposure, and transportation allowances for horses were also detailed.
Evaluation of the competition format and potential improvements which would make it easier to understand for a larger audience will be actively explored.
Individual rankings could be established with extra prize money and ranking points as an additional incentive for riders. Series calendar, protection of dates, and structure of the competition season were also looked at.
Ingmar De Vos highlighted the fact that this was not a formalised proposal but that the objective would be to seek new ideas and look at them with an open mind. He stated that the goal would be to deliver a revamped product preferably ready for implementation in 2013. An E-platform will be set up to allow the debate to continue online, prior to a more detailed proposal being put forward for approval at the 2012 General Assembly in November.
The FEI World Cup™ was also mentioned, with an acknowledgement that the partnership with Rolex had resulted in a very successful series. Some fine-tuning is still required, with a proposal that the Final should take place earlier to mark the end of the indoor season. The qualification system for the Final also needs to be reviewed on a regular basis to further assist in the development of the sport in the different regions of the world and the creation of new Leagues.
The Global Champions Tour (GCT), an individual outdoor series created in 2006 by Jan Tops, is not an FEI-named series and the FEI does not own the commercial rights. The GCT has introduced a new standard of prize money greatly appreciated by the riders and owners. Discussions have been held between GCT organisers and the FEI concerning the invitation system, the rules and the calendar and it was acknowledged that discussions need to continue in order to reach a long term agreement. The fact that an important GCT delegation attended the Forum and took an active participation in it was a matter of great satisfaction to the FEI.
The proposed changes to the FEI Nations Cup™ generated lively discussions. The concept was deemed revolutionary and was welcomed as an opportunity to move the sport forward. Roger Haller of the USEF welcomed comments on universality and suggested that the semi-finals should be held close together in order to help build-up towards the final. David Holmes from the Italian NF complimented the FEI on this big step forward which he believed would be excellent for the future of the sport. Andrew Finding suggested the integration of the Nations Cup in the qualification system for the Olympic Games. Eleonora Ottaviani, IJRC director, expressed the Club’s full support of the Nations Cup concept.
Special thanks were expressed to the Saudi Equestrian Fund for becoming an FEI partner and supporting the series throughout the transition period. The Fund’s managing director, Ziyad Abduljawad, reiterated how keen the company was to facilitate the change and to become the series’ title sponsor for a five-year period commencing in 2013, once the remodelling process had been finalised.
The chairman of the FEI Jumping Committee John Madden concluded the proceedings of the second day by thanking everyone for their valuable input, encouraging participants to think not only of the short term issues but to keep an open mind on the challenges identified. “This is te end of the live forum, but the debate, the discussion, will continue on online,”,he said.
“I see the Event Classification System as a cornerstone that will bring up many solutions and I’m truly passionate about it,” he pointed out. “It shouldn’t be looked at in a threatening way, it would not be a tool to downgrade our shows, but a valuable solution to categorise our products. A lot of hard work is now needed but I see it as an investment for many years. We need to keep our CSIOs healthy and strong and alive. We have excellence here and we have all the potential to maximise the appeal of the great sport we have. We are unified by one thing, the love and the passion for the horse.”
Photo caption: The inaugural FEI Sports Forum began on 30 April in Lausanne (SUI). © Edouard Curchod/FEI.