FEI General Assembly 2016 in Tokyo: final debate before the tomorrow's crucial vote

Olympic formats were the key topic at the FEI General Assembly session in the Japanese capital this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s crucial vote on the proposals that will be submitted to the IOC on the formats for the three Olympic equestrian disciplines at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Close to 300 delegates, representing 76 of the FEI’s 134 National Federations, engaged in the final debate to conclude a two-year consultation process about proposed changes to the three disciplines designed to increase universality, one of the key requirements under Olympic Agenda 2020. A further 31 National Federations will be voting by proxy, increasing the number of votes to 107.

The proposals aim to make the equestrian events more readily understandable and packaged in a more compact format, engaging new fans through enhanced presentation of the sport.

The key proposals for change across the three Olympic disciplines – Jumping, Dressage and Eventing – and Para-Equestrian Dressage at the Paralympics are to have three athletes per team. The drop score, which previously allowed for a team’s worst score to be discarded, would be removed under the new proposals. The role of the reserve combination will be even more important and will be a key element in ensuring horse welfare.

These proposals will all be voted on together during tomorrow’s (Tuesday) General Assembly, with the proposed discipline specific changes and the Paralympic revisions to be voted on separately.

Delegates at today’s session were given a final chance to debate the issues and opinions were voiced both for and against the proposals for change.

Natallia Kalesnikava, Executive Director of the Equestrian Federation of Belarus, said: “We fully support this proposal. It gives a great opportunity for our country that’s been developing for the past 20 years to go to the Olympic Games. As soon as a country has the opportunity to participate in the Olympics, it has the support of its Government and sponsors, the chance to promote the sport and attract more young people. With this proposal you increase the number of countries to possibly 50 (but note that this number is not correct because 20 plus 15 means 35 countries and not 50 as mentioned)that would have the chance to raise their flag at the Olympic Games.”

The German federation President, Breido Graf zu Rantzau  said even if reluctantly, that they could "survive" with the format of 3 riders per team, but he strongly asked that the WEG maintains the format with teams composed by 4 athlete and with the drop score.

German National Federation Secretary Soenke Lauterbach spoke against, but made it very clear that Germany will respect the democratic process. “We understand the desire to get more universality in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but it has to be balanced with the core principles of our sport, that we have top athletes, top level sport and in line with horse welfare requirements. We do not feel that with three per team we have the right balance of these three principles and that is why we will vote against tomorrow, but we will accept and work with whatever decision is made.”

Yesterday during the EEF meeting, the Dutch Federation, winner of many medals during the past years, was clearly against the new FEI proposals for change.
Also Christina Liebherr, IJRC (International Jumping Riders Club) President, expressed the IJRC and NARG (North American Riders Group) position (representing more then 600 athletes of world show jumping riders capable of competing at international and/or Olympic level), that is against the new proposal and strongly wants to keep the 4 riders teams with the drop score.

Many others were agree with the positions of the IJRC and Narg, as:
Laurent Romaine for the France National Federation, was against the 3 riders's proposal and he underlined the request to maintain the drop score, followed by Claude Normad that expressed the same position for the Switzerland's Federations, owners and riders.

Eleonora Ottaviani, IJRC Director, said that she didn't want to convince anyone about one position or the other, but she simply asked to the delegates to reflect and to ask themselves why they are in Tokyo: because of political reasons? because of specific interests? because of the media? because of the benefit of the sport?because of their passion for horses? and because of the respect and the consideration they have for their athletes?

In the hope that all the Federations, particularly, England, Sweden, Italy, Mexico and Brazil will vote taking into consideration the the wishes of their athletes who have signed the letter sent to the FEI and of which you can see the video with their statements.

In particular the Olympic champion Nick Skelton that a few minutes before, was described by Grania Willis, as an "Unexpected Hero" who strongly asked to keep the current jumping format with 4 riders per team and with drop score.