HSI wrong to take such a definitive view

The concept of three-rider teams in the Olympics is a major leap for equestrian sport, yet Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) seems to have made its mind up about its approach without having walked the course.

The proposal was heavily debated at the Federation Equestre Internationale sports forum in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week, with the FEI Bureau then concluding the 2020 Olympics should feature teams of a maximum of three, or, one individual, per nation. The change will be voted on at the FEI General Assembly in Tokyo next November.

However, HSI looks to have taken up a position on the issue without having allowed for full consultation. In an article in The Irish Field, HSI chief executive Damian McDonald gave the background to the proposal, before going on to outline what was headed as the “HSI position”.

The heading was accurate as, while McDonald in his opening paragraph stressed that HSI “has yet to take a formal position”, he goes on to argue three-rider teams might be beneficial to Ireland.

He maintains that, mathematically, “smaller teams suit smaller countries”, but fails to explain on his logic.

He also says that, in terms of eventing, the change to three-rider teams “could well suit the Irish Sport Horse”, posing the question that, with no discard score, “will selectors have to place greater emphasis on cross-country reliability”.

There may be a modicum of validity to this argument, but I’m not convinced that having no discard score would result in a dramatic change in the make-up of teams; selectors have always prioritised reliability on the cross-country, especially at Olympic level.

The need for change in the format of equestrian sport is being driven by the International Olympic Committee. It downgraded the sport following the London Olympics to Tier 4 on a five-tier scale, categorising it with canoeing/kayaking, fencing, handball, field hockey, sailing, taekwondo, triathlon, and wrestling. A lack of engagement in media, social media, etc was cited for the downgrading, which will result in reduced revenue from the Games for the sport.

Thus, McDonald in his article stresses “we need to bring our sport to a wider audience”.

Unfortunately, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) is not at gold medal standard in this regard. For example, it’s hard to understand how the organisation that should be doing its utmost to promote the sport can charge for its coverage on FEI TV.

Could it be argued, then, that while change is necessary to make the sport more attractive, the major problem is the governing body’s poor marketing of its product?

McDonald’s article, meanwhile, featured a couple of things that could not be disputed: One is that “ keeping equestrian sport in the Olympics Games has to be the absolute priority”, while he also pointed out that “no change is not an option”. All sports evolve, but they should not do so without allowing for input from participants at every level.

The sport is more than just the governing body; it has many disparate elements, which deserve to be heard, regardless of which side of the debate they fall on.

As such, it is apt to give the last word in this article to Ireland manager Robert Splaine.

“The changes seem somewhat radical for show jumping and many of the riders do not seem to favour them.

“In that regard, I think all the main players should be given the chance to express their opinion.”

Bertram Allen, Denis Lynch, and Conor Swail made their way south to Mexico City this week for the second leg of the Global Champions Tour.

Allen had reason to celebrate, following his victory with John Whitaker in the inaugural Global Champions League two-rider team contest at the opening round in Miami last Sunday.

Next Sunday’s West Cork Horse Breeders’ spring horse sale at Ballybrack Equestrian Centre, Glenville, has been cancelled due to a lack of entries. It is hoped to be rescheduled at a later date.

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