An exclusive interview to Rodrigo Pessoa as the new FEI Athlete representative in the Jumping Committee

August - A few days after his election, Rodrigo Pessoa, the new FEI Athlete representative in the Jumping Committee, is satisfied with the result and looks forward for discussions at the FEI table. With an outstanding career and experience in the equestrian milieu, the Club’s vice-president seems to be the right person at the right time.

For the first time in the equestrian sport’s history, athletes voted online their FEI representative. Rodrigo, did you expect this result?

It was difficult to guess the result. I was aware I had a chance to fill this role. I have a deep knowledge of our environment, I have been involved with the International Jumping Riders Club for many years and I’ve already been a FEI Athlete representative in the Jumping Committee in the past. Most of all, I’m not afraid to say what I think and to fight for my sport. I believe these are the reasons standing behind my colleagues’ approval. And I am pleased with this.

Many topics are discussed these days. Which of them has the priority?

All discussions are important to me but we have to face, first of all, the complex and not yet solved theme of the invitational system: there are too many good riders who can’t access top shows. On one side we do have a good amount of shows every week but, on the other, the riders’ number has increased so much and the use of pay cards forbids the entrance to those who do not buy their entry. We can see it every weekend. Furthermore we have so many topics to discuss, as the one on the horse’s boots. Who agrees, who does not. We have a lot of work waiting for us.

Back to the pay cards, what do you suggest?

We are taking great consideration of all proposals. We must find a balanced solution for everybody. We can’t afford to have these riders out of the shows because they bring a lot of money to our sport, but at the same time we need rules. I would suggest a level control based on the results obtained on the CSI3 and 4 stars. This could be an easy solution with only competition results deciding for a rider’s entry in a CSI5 stars.

With the emerging Arabian countries, the sport’s power and centre of gravity has moved away from Europe in these years. Do you think that the globalisation is responsible for losing our sports’ values from sight?

I don’t think so. Europe is still our reference point for show jumping, with the best riders and best teams all over the world. It is true that in the last years Saudi Arabia showed off, in Lexington first, in the Olympics after, but it did not maintain continuity with important results. Now it’s time for Qatar, which is working hard on riders and horses in order to have a good team. There is quite a high number of riders from Qatar competing nowadays in 5 stars circuits, and maybe just a couple should be there. This is not right because they take away places to other talented competitors.

The world ranking list should represent a snapshot of the sport at a particular time. But it happens to be very static with no access possibility for riders behind the 30th position to top shows. What is your opinion?

The problem with the ranking list is that it does not reflect reality: it does not start at the beginning of the year and it is based for a large part on the results of the previous year. For the first thirty positions it is fine, the ranking is a good representation of the best of the sport at a specific time. But from the 30th position onwards if other riders cannot afford to be on the top shows every week with two or three top horses there are no chances for them to gain positions. So I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to have the ranking begin on the 1st January until the 31st December, or just after the Top Ten took place. We would have then a much more dynamic ranking this way.

With the agreement between the Club and the Narg, the riders’ voice will be louder. What do you think of the existing contrasts between riders and federations?

I don’t believe there are incompatible discussions between riders and federations. Having said this, I will ask to be more focused on sport. The FEI does its job well, even if sometimes it should concentrate less on its personal agenda. There are times I don’t approve its decisions and I think that from now on we should work together and find the right answers for show jumping. We have to consider the organizing committee as well, which have often been penalised. Obviously everybody is concerned of his own interests but we must not forget that we are all on the same boat.

Looking forward to the Games in Rio, we are halfway to the Olympic quadrennial. What has changed since London and what should we focus on?

I don’t think so much has changed in these two years. The contract between the FEI and Longines has been probably the only big news. Looking forward to the Games in Rio, we must absolutely solve the glanders matter, an infective disease which affects the horse’s respiratory system and that is still present in some areas of Brazil. Today horses are not allowed to enter the country. It is an old problem since so many years and the 5 stars show in Rio was mainly suspended for this reason. We must work hard, together with the Olympic Committee and the Agriculture’s Minister to find a solution.

Talking about Rio, what can you say about the FIFA World Cup in Brazil?

One thing is losing; another thing is losing the way Brazil did. Football is a second religion for us and what is very bad is that it came along with an enormous amount of money invested on the World Cup. I don’t mean that if we had won it would have been morally different. The real problem is that Brazil has a very big corruption business and they could have spent just a little part of that money building schools, hospitals or public transportations, which are missing. People are angry and the entire country is suffering. It was difficult to accept that all that money had been blown away for a World Cup. Probably the same issue will return for the Olympics, which will bring corruption and money traffics. I hope that the lesson has been learned but I’m afraid it hasn’t.

Along with the World Cup, we are now in the middle of the World Equestrian Games. What do you expect for your team and for yourself?

Brazil has possibilities, for sure. We have a mixed team, two seniors and three younger riders: Eduardo Menezes, Yuri Mansur e Marlon Zanotelli. They all jumped in the nations cup in the last twelve months and now they’ll face their first world championship. We worked hard on these new couples and in the last month we have scheduled a specific preparation for each horse to get to Normandy in the best shape. You can never know what is going to happen, but with a bit of luck on our side we can dream of a team medal, possibly not the bronze one. I will ride Status, a new horse I’m riding since January. He is ten years old, he’s a good one and has skills. Maybe he is not so fast but he improves his performances in the long shows, so I think he can do something good on this championship. If everything will be fine with my team, I can go and try to reach the final four for the individual title once more. But I will do it only if I have one mathematically concrete chance.

As a representative of the Jumping Committee do you think this world championship will be useful for your future work?

I’m convinced that Normandy will be a good occasion to start with. Even if I will have to focus on my competitions, politics plays a great role in a world championship, gathering people from all over the world. So, it is my duty to listen, talk, get informed, meet people in order to sit at the decisions table, in December, well-prepared and with some good ideas.

by Barbara Leoni