At its General Assembly in Tokyo yesterday FEI delegates voted in favour of its proposed Olympic format changes and will now forward these to the International Olympic Committee for approval.
The vote was carried by a large majority of the nations represented, but four of the leading show jumping powers – France, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland – were among those who opposed the changes.
The key motive behind the proposed format is to increase the number of participating nations, which the FEI feels would increase the appeal of the sport to international audiences, something which it sees as vital in protecting the future of the sport as an Olympic event and in line with the IOC’s ‘Olympic Agenda 2020’ initiative.
Under the changes the number of countries who can qualify a show jumping team will increase from 15 to 20, but these teams will consist of only three athletes with a reserve allowed. The three-athletes-per-team stipulation will also apply to dressage, eventing and para-equestrian dressage.
Furthermore, in show jumping, there would be fifteen individual places which would be allocated to riders from countries that do not have a team competing, with the added proviso that these riders must all be from different countries. In the other disciplines, up to two riders from a non-team nation can qualify as individuals.
How each national federation arrived at its decision to vote yes or no, and which parties among its national jumping community had an input into the decision is not known, but earlier this month the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) wrote to the FEI with alternative proposals which would keep the number of athletes per team at the traditional four, but reduce the number of teams who qualify, thus opening the way for more individual places to increase global interest. In a response to the IJRC issued this week, the FEI has maintained that its own proposals are a better way forward.
Whatever the controversy that may arise from the three-team format with its no drop-score element and the increased possibility of elimination, there is also bound to be concern among riders over the one-per-country limit on the fifteen individual places in show jumping.
For Rio 2016, for example, Ireland earned one individual place through the efforts of Bertram Allen and almost gained a second spot via Denis Lynch. Under the new format a second individual place will not be available to any nation in show jumping.
The increase in the number of teams will afford several nations who have been on the periphery of team qualification a better chance, which is probably why the proposals had such support, but stronger nations will have to be content with less medalists and a few selection headaches as well.
“Of course this now has to be approved by the IOC, but it opens the door to countries that previously could only see the Olympics as a distant dream”, said FEI President Ingmar De Vos after the vote.
“There were some National Federations that didn’t agree with the proposal, but that’s all part of the democratic process. Now we need to work together to make this a success.”
The FEI will be hoping that agreement will be reached with the IOC by mid-2017.