Olympic Jumping Format proposal

Following the Olympic format debate at the last FEI Sport Forum, on behalf of the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) find below,
the Olympic Format Jumping proposal has received full support from International riders and owners and was signed by a large number of Equestrian Sports stakeholders.

In the view of  the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) and the FEI, we would like to take this opportunity to express the position of IJRC and NARG (representing the majority of world show jumping riders capable of competing at international and/or Olympic level) regarding the proposed Olympic jumping Team Format changes, discussed in the last Sport Forum in Lausanne.

In principle, we support the FEI’s aim of increasing the number of nations competing at the Olympics but believe there are better ways of achieving this.

It should be noted that of the 134 federations, 60 do not organise equestrian events, around 17 do not have riders and 26 do not have horses.

Fewer than 44 nations have riders who compete at an international level in show jumping events.

Mathematically speaking, it can therefore be affirmed that the majority of show jumping nations with eligible riders and horses is around 40 nations which have a realistic chance of being represented at the Olympic Games.

The Athletes strongly suggest that 12 (or 13 or 14) teams of 4 riders should be permitted to participate at the Olympic Games. More space could therefore be given to individuals – 27 (or 23 or 19) riders – allowing a larger number of nations to compete than presently.

Deserving athletes could then be rewarded, even when not backed by a strong federation or a nation with a strong tradition of show jumping.

1) Horse Welfare

If there are only teams of three riders and no drop score, if one horse is deemed unfit to compete at 100% of its ability, the rider will be put under strong pressure to compete, in order to avoid elimination of the team. This goes against our fundamental principle of placing the welfare of the horse before everything.

In addition, if one rider has to pull out to protect the welfare of his/her horse, the remaining riders have little option but to withdraw – thus seriously affecting both the competitive and entertainment value of the event.

The horse and rider’s replacement in the second round, puts riders but above all the horses under great strain.

The horse enters the competition not with a gradual increase in difficulty, but immediately has to jump a notably more difficult course, which could prove dangerous (expert course designers agree and they can confirm this point).

It is a big disadvantage for the horse that has to come in an arena when he doesn’t test the surface, doesn’t know the jump material, the water jump and lines.

In fact, it is well known that the first day and the first round of the Olympics and championships do not reflect the level of difficulty on the following days. This is to avoid accidents among less experienced riders, and to allow horses to progress gradually to an increase in difficulty.

In the Rio Olympics, if there were teams of three riders, the USA Team and the Netherlands which both lost one horse on the second day, would have had to enlist their reserve horse.

This reserve combination, should have competed in the third round in the second day with no experience of the arena and of the competition, which would have penalized their team’s performance and place the team ar risk.

2)      Importance to keep the drop score

Without the drop score, the competition would be less exciting, and we don’t want everything decided after one round.

The drop score is not difficult to understand by the audience and keeps the competition more exciting till the end, otherwise everything can be decided after one round.

Rio has proved that the format with the 4 riders and the drop score works. It was dramatic and suspenseful until the very end.

Because in the equestrian sport two living beings are involved, one being an animal, the chance of elimination by accident or bad luck is more than doubled. This is why it is paramount to keep the drop score.

The Games in Rio delivered a noteworthy example for this: the home team, Brazil, would have been completely disqualified if there had been no drop score. One of their riders was disqualified after competing. This would have eliminated the entire team if there was no drop score. The disappointment of the spectators would have been unimaginable.

3)      Risk of withdrawal or elimination of the team

With a team of three riders and no drop score, the following scenario could occur:

If the first rider has a poor result (elimination; 12 or 16 penalties), there is little point in the other two team members continuing the competition, especially if the team event takes place after medals have been awarded for the Individual event.

Do we want our sport take a step back, repeating the experience of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, when the team jumping format was changed from 4 to 3 riders, and the Canadians won with 3 riders with more than 100 penalties ?

Or do we want to eliminate teams which have 16 penalties?

4)      Participation of smaller nations at Olympic events

It’s illusory to assume that by reducing the number of competitors per team more smaller nations would be able to compete – and win medals.

We kindly ask you to analyse the following:

  • Rio 2016:
    With drop score
    15 Teams of 4 riders =   60
    Individual:                        15
    Total :                                  75  riders and 28 flags
    (16 nations excluded out of 44)
  • FEI proposal:
    No drop score
    20 teams of 3 riders =    60  riders (20 active reserves)
    Individual:                         15
    Total:                                    75  riders and 33 flags
    (11 nations excluded out of 44)
    This proposal would place small nations who do not have a fourth rider, in difficulty, in the event of necessary substitution before or during the competition There is therefore little point in increasing the number of Olympic teams for only a further five flags.
  • Athletes Proposal:
    With drop score (important to keep it)
    14 teams of 4 riders = 56  riders
    Individual:                      19
    Total:                             75  riders and 33 flags – same as FEI proposal
    (11 nations excluded out of 44)

               Or          

             With drop score (important to keep it)
13 teams of 4 riders  =   52  riders
Individual:                        23
Total:                                   75  riders and more than 33 flags

In the athletes proposal, there would be a greater number of flags (33 or even more) and with 19 or even 23 individuals (at least 4 more than at present), more small nations would have the chance to send (at least) one individual rider to the Olympics.

Realistically, all equestrian nations,would have the opportunity to send their representative.

This solution means sacrificing one to three teams but small nations would find an open door. At this stage in international development it is far more likely to have competitive individuals from the next tier of nations rather than competitive teams.

It is important to underline that during the Olympic Games, the teams have to keep the quality of the sport without downgrading its level, attracting more media, a wider public and more members of the younger generation, who are always interested in the best competition at the highest possible level.

In a recent meeting of the European Equestrian Federation, the FEI’s president pointed out that a maximum of 12 teams currently makes up Division One.

As is well known, the Olympics are much more challenging than Division One competitions, not only for the level of commitment required during the Olympics but also for the amount of preparation and participation in high level contests needed to arrive prepared for the Olympic Games.

Looking at the international panorama, it is difficult to find 20 teams that can compete at a high enough level to participate in the Olympics        without risk of injury to horse or rider.

It is our hope that a positive solution can be agreed upon for both the short and long term benefit of the sport, as the spirit of the IJRC has never been that of acquiring power or of working for the political or economic interests of one stakeholder or another in the equestrian world.

Our priorities have always been the horse’s quality of life (signifying more than just the horse’s welfare), sporting meritocracy and respect for the Olympic Charter in all its forms.

Bearing in mind the Olympic Charter which states that “the interest of the Athletes constitute a fundamental objective of the tasks of the IOC” and it it is the wish of the IOC that Athletes are involved in decisions that can affect their  life.

These requests and proposals of the athletes, have the full agreement and support, of all the horses’ owners, represented by the International Owners Association  (JOC) of the FEI.