Saudi cup deal a threat to RDS

The RDS and other historic show jumping venues could face serious competition in remaining in the top-level Nations Cup series if proposals for a revamp proceed next year.

Details emerged this week as Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) president Princess Haya chose the inaugural FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland, to unveil a potential six-year sponsorship deal of the series by the Saudi Equestrian Fund that could see the introduction of a knockout style competition and no grands prix at Nations Cup shows.

Horse Sport Ireland chief executive Damian McDonald last night acknowledged difficulties could lay ahead.

“In essence, it would appear that the Nations Cup series is in fact being replaced by a knockout-style Nations Cup competition,” said McDonald.

“The main concern would be for the Nations Cup shows that are currently part of the Top League. While they could bid for a semi-final or final it would be hard to see how this would work for them if there was no grand prix and the semi-finals and finals were not in the same venue each year.

“Shows would find it difficult to deal with this sort of uncertainty. At present, the FEI provide the prizemoney for the top-level Nations Cups, but under this new proposal it would appear this funding will no longer go to these shows unless they are hosting a semi-final or final. This is a serious challenge for the shows and obviously our main concern would be the implications for Dublin.

“We will be having a full discussion on the proposal at our next senior show jumping high performance meeting and with our rules committee. We will also discuss the proposals with the RDS. After this we will be making a formal submission to the FEI.”

The format of the current series — which begins next week in La Baule, France, and culminates in Dublin — features eight venues, notably all in Europe. As such, it is believed the Saudi deal is conditional on opening access to countries where the sport is experiencing increased interest, such as in the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Princess Haya told delegates the Saudi Fund will provide full financial support for the 2012 series and has also agreed to a five-year title sponsorship commencing in 2013, though this is dependent on the finalisation of the “remodelling process”.

With a knockout-style series, countries would be divided into groups, preferably per region, with a grading system that would see the strongest federations installed as group leaders. Teams would aim to qualify from their groups for semi-finals, with four teams from each of these progressing to a final of either eight or 12 teams.

The format of the Nations Cup competition could also be open to review to make it more spectator friendly and, in a bid to reinforce its position as the main competition, shows could be barred from staging a grand prix.

Proposals must be ratified by the FEI general assembly in November.

The RDS could not comment yesterday.

* Billy Twomey tomorrow aims torepeat his 2011 Global Champions Tour victory at Valencia, Spain. Mark McAuley and Denis Lynch also bid for the major slice of the €285,000 on offer, while the latter is then flying to compete in Mannheim, Germany.

In Lummen, Belgium, Ireland has been drawn first in today’s Nations Cup, with Dermott Lennon (Loughview Lou Lou) the pathfinder on a team featuring four Irish-bred horses. He is followed by Alexander Butler (Will Wimble), Edward Doyle (Samgemgee) and Shane Breen (Cos I Can).

Manager Robert Splaine said the draw could work out well for his team as poor weather conditions means the outside ground could deteriorate quickly.


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