Just in time for Christmas, the Belgian Competition Authority lobbed an unwelcome ‘present’ at both equestrian sport’s world governing body, the FEI, and the privately run Global Champions Tour/Global Champions League (GCT/GCL).
It ordered a month-long suspension of a memorandum of understanding between the two parties.
Among other things, the agreement allowed for a reduction in the number of invitations that had to be issued to riders in GCT/GCL-organised events based on their world rankings. The standard percentage of such invitations is 60%, but the GCT/GCL events were allowed a much smaller number, effectively not much more than half that figure. This enabled the GCT/GCL to profit from a greater number of paid-for entries.
It’s the latest, and a potentially crucial, development in the so-called pay-to-play controversy.
The GCT and its more recent mixed-nationality team series, the GCL, are privately run events, and as such can make up their own entry rules, but having these endorsed and blessed with ranking points by the FEI changes the complexion. A rider who doesn’t qualify for an invitation is faced with paying a non-inconsiderable entry fee in some shape or form, either as a member of a GCL team (valued at €2m per team per season) or individually.
The business model has to work for the GCL, but the ranking points issue is perhaps the most significant aspect. If you can’t afford to enter some events that carry upper-scale ranking points, you’re at a disadvantage.
The month-long suspension of the memorandum of understanding, pending deliberation by the Belgian Competition Authority, is in effect until January 20.
The issue is seen as of fundamental importance to the future of show jumping, with an almost universal feeling that the route to success is being made more accessible to those with deeper pockets.
This is the second time in recent years that the Belgian Competition Authority has been called into play with regard to the GCL. Last time, it was the GCL itself which sought its intercession against the FEI.
In 2015, after GCT announced it was to introduce the new team format (GCL), it took a case to stop the FEI invoking an ‘exclusivity’ clause which would have suspended riders taking part in the new league — the FEI seeing it as threat to the traditional Nations Cup format. The Belgian body made an interim ruling against the FEI, who appealed unsuccessfully.
The new team format went ahead in 2016, and, in advance of the 2017 season, the two warring parties reached the memorandum of understanding that is the subject of the current ruling.
Meanwhile, the curtailment of Liverpool International Horse Show due to a nearby fire put a stop to the gallop of Shane Breen, who was having a fruitful weekend, with one win and a number of runner-up finishes.
The Tipperary rider was one of eight Irish show jumpers due to contest the Grand Prix, since cancelled. It is a credit to all concerned that there were no casualties, human or equine, after such an unfortunate incident.
There was one ‘field-of-play’ tragedy at the event. Dutch rider Sanne Thijssen’s horse, Sara Galotiere, had to be put down after an awkward landing in Saturday’s Horseware Ireland class. Equine fatalities in show jumping are rare, so it must be a case of sheer bad luck that this was the second one at the Liverpool show in the last three stagings. Two years ago Irish rider Cameron Hanley’s talented Antello Z came to grief during a 1.45m competition.
Breen’s efforts at Liverpool have seen him rise to 47th in the end-of-year world rankings issued yesterday. Bertram Allen is still the highest-ranked Irish rider, up two places to 20th, with Cian O’Connor 24th and Denis Lynch 25th. After a remarkable year, Mark McAuley has finally entered the top 100 at number 83 — a rise of almost 500 notches since the start of 2017.
The year ended with another international crown for Irish show jumping at the first staging of the FEI Ponies Trophy Final in Mechelen, Belgium. Seamus Hughes Kennedy and Cuffesgrange Cavalidam left all poles standing on the final day to claim an Irish victory, with Abbie Sweetnam and Dynamite Spartacus taking the runner-up position.
The other Irish rider in the event, Kate Derwin, just missed the podium when finishing fourth with Cul Ban Mistress, one fault shy of Belgium’s Aaron Tijskens.
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