Number up for four-rider teams at Olympics

The number is up for four-rider teams at the Olympics, it seems.

To be more precise, however, it's down as, at this week’s FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland, the concept of three-rider teams for the 2020 Olympics was heavily promoted as the future of equestrian sport.

The change was given further credence when the FEI Bureau concluded yesterday that it should be teams of three and one individual per nation for the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games.

The Bureau asked the Technical Committees to finalise their proposals in that direction to be submitted to national federations prior to a vote at the FEI General Assembly in Tokyo (coincidentally, the 2020 Olympic city) next November.

The proposal is almost assured of being passed by the assembly.

Also guaranteed, though, is the issue’s divisiveness in the run-up, as, while officialdom is seemingly in favour of the change, those directly affected, ie riders, are opposed.

FEI first vice-president John Madden spoke at the forum of how three-member teams would bring in more nations across the Olympic disciplines, as well as at the World Equestrian Games.

“Universality we have control over,” he said. “It’s simple math. We have 200 spots and 40 National Olympic Committees at the moment. With the proposals on the table, we still have 200 spots and we can increase the number of flags to about 55. Three per team gets us 25% more.”

According to the FEI, “There was general agreement about the importance of bringing in new nations to the Olympic Games.”

FEI Executive Board member Frank Kemperman said: “I agree 100% how important it is for smaller nations to have athletes at the Olympic Games. It is the best shop window for our sport.”

The above are obvious and laudable arguments, while also fulfilling the Olympian tenet that the Games should be about inclusivity as much as being about being a showcase for the best athletes.

However, the practicality of the proposal warrants close inspection. Its impact will vary to some degree on each of the three disciplines: show jumping, eventing, and dressage. Crucial is the loss of a discard score.

If, for example, in eventing, a horse is in difficulty on the cross-country, will the rider be pressurised to complete, a situation that will fly in the face of the FEI’s claim of prioritising horse welfare.

The three-rider team plan was not without its opponents, the most notable being Swiss Olympic champion Steve Guerdat, but considering the proposal will ensure greater participation by emerging nations, their greater voting power means its passing at the general assembly is almost a fait accompli.

Another argument put forward in recent years is the fact nations cup competitions are too long, too complicated and, importantly, not TV-friendly.

In a world seeking and becoming accustomed to quick-hit, high-octane entertainment, this is something worth considering.

More sports that fulfill that criterion are pressing the International Olympic Committee for inclusion and it was something raised by Olympic Press Committee member Alan Abrahamson, who told the 320 participants at the forum that: “What you’re facing is nothing less than a reality check" for equestrian sport.

The former Los Angeles Times and NBCOlympics.com correspondent explained:“A lot of the public don’t know anything about equestrian sport.

There are tons of new sports trying to knock on the Olympic door. Skateboarding, surfing, and rock climbing are almost guaranteed to be on the Olympic programme for Tokyo, because they are perceived as cool and sexy sports.

You know you’ve got a great sport. You have that core audience, what you need are more and younger fans. This is not a crisis point. It’s not a moment of desperation for you, it’s a moment rich with opportunity.”

One thing is definite, the IOC wants to see equestrian sport increase its public and media appeal, involve more countries, and make scoring easier to comprehend.

Francesco Ricci Bitti, who will be standing unopposed for the presidency of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) later this month, was also adamant about the need for change.

“But don’t do it only for the Olympics, do it for your sport. Find a compromise between the values your sport represent and the changes you need to make to make your sport more attractive.

"Be aware that the Olympics, the most attractive product of multi-sport in the world, has to change globally.”

In that regard, the new Global Champions League could prove a petri-dish, featuring as it does 12 five-rider multi-national squads from which two-rider teams will be selected for each competition.

It makes its debut this Sunday in Miami, with Bertram Allen on Valkenswaard United along with Briton John Whitaker.

Whether it will satisfy the purists or not is debatable, but it demonstrates one thing: Change is on the way.

* The aforementioned Bertram Allen has reversed his slippage in the Longines world rankings, moving from ninth to eighth this week.

Denis Lynch saw a dramatic improvement as a result of his five clear rounds at the recent World Cup finals, the Tipperary rider rising seven places to 22nd.

Conor Swail is next best, showing no movement in 35th place, while Cian O’Connor is up by four places to 48th.

Allen, Lynch, and Swail are in action this weekend at the five-star show in Miami, Florida. Allen rides Hector Van D’Abdijhoeve and Quiet Easy 4; Lynch is armed with Garkus Van Het Indihof and Ho Go Van De Padenborre; while Swail is partnered by Grafton and Martha Louise

In the dressage world rankings, Judy Reynolds rose an impressive 19 places to 28th after placing eighth when she became the first Irish rider to line out in the World Cup finals, while she also set new Irish record scores in Qatar recently.

Reigning Irish national champion Roland Tong is up 12 places to 182nd, while Italy-based Dubliner James Connor rose 34 places to 234th.

* Last week’s interview with show jumper Greg Broderick prompted a look at the Irish riders’ scores in last year’s four point-counting nations cups.

As the battle for Ireland’s sole Olympic show jumping place begins in earnest, this week we look at the 2015 European Championships and the Furusiyya Series final in an effort to elicit some idea as to what - apart from the nations cup shows in next few months - will influence manager Robert Splaine in his selection of the rider for Rio.

Firstly, the two-round team contest in the European Championships: Denis Lynch (All Star 5, 4/0), Bertram Allen (Molly Malone V, 4/4), Greg Broderick (Mhs Going Global, 8/4) and Cian O’Connor (Good Luck, 0/4, though, as is well documented, the faults were as a result of a member of the ground jury interfering with his round).

The opening contest at the championships saw Allen finish fifth with a clean sheet, which was matched by Broderick, but his slower time saw him place 25th. O’Connor posted four faults, while Lynch ended on eight faults.

Secondly, the Furusiyya Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, where Ireland finished fifth on 12 faults: Denis Lynch (All Star 5, 8flts), Greg Broderick (MHS Going Global, 4flts), Bertram Allen (Molly Malone V, 8flts), Cian O’Connor (Good Luck, 0flts).

The opening qualifying round at the show saw Ireland place seventh on 13 faults: Allen (5flts), Broderick (5flts), O’Connor (4flts) and Lynch (4flts).

The 2016 Furusiyya Nations Cup Series opens in Lummen, Belgium, on April 29.

* The Waterford/Tipperary Branch of ShowjumpingIreland has launched a Pony Summer/Autumn Series.

The series will commence with the first outdoor show of the year at Ballylawn, home of Francis Connors, on May 2, culminating with finals at three venues in October:  Ballinamona Equestrian Centre, Waterford; Tipperary Equestrian Centre, Thurles; and The Ballyrafter Centre, Lismore.

The series will feature three categories: The Equine Warehouse Carling King Series, comprising 128cms (70cms), 138cms (80cms), and 148cms (90cms);  the Coolmore Stakes will include 128cms (80cms), 138cms (90cms) and 148cms (1mtr); and the NutriScience Summer Tour,  featuring 128cms (90cms), 138cms (1mtr) and 148cms (1.10mtr).

Points accumulated during the season will qualify rider/pony combinations for the grand finals, with prizes also going to each category leader.

Apart from the three title companies in the series, other sponsors include Denn’s Horse Feed (with a prize for the overall highest scoring registered Connemara pony) and rider Paddy O’Donnell (providing prizes for the the top scoring ponies aged four, five, and six).


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