Considerations on Tokyo FEI GA

It was sad for the riders, to realize that a vast abyss divides the worlds of sport and politics as underlined during this year’s Annual General Meeting of the FEI.

At the open discussion on the preceding the day, IJRC President Christina Liebherr and Director Eleonora Ottaviani outlined riders’ wishes regarding the proposed new formats at the Olympics and the WEG. The pair also asked the FEI to review a letter signed by more than 100 Athletes and by the  IJRC and NARG, which represents more than 600 athletes registered in federations and ranked in the FEI Longines Ranking list across  Europe, Asia, America and North Africa. Despite this, only 11 national federations considered the riders’ opinions – to the great disappointment of the athletes.

Opinions expressed at the General Assembly and related debates were not the only ones ignored by the FEI. Requests made by major federations from France, Germany and Switzerland fell on deaf ears, it seems. Yet Mr Romanais ( French Federation), Mr Claude Normand (Swiss Federation), Mr Breido Graf zu Rantzau and Mr Sönke Lauterbach (President and Secretary General of the German Federation)  all expressed unequivocal opposition to the change of format at the Olympic and at the WEG.

The current system shows up another issue, yet to be resolved: technical-sporting decisions are made by non-experts unable to understand the sporting world or judge the best way forward for our sport. Athletes’ views are rarely respected, resulting in decisions that are ill-informed.

A serious question of discrimination also emerged in Tokyo: none-active federations are favoured at the expense of those who work tirelessly for the sport.

These last benefit both sport and finance  by paying substantial contributions  to the FEI (including the tax on Prize money for International Shows) and by promoting sporting activities for everyone from beginners to Olympic champions (and we cannot forget the passport fee paid by riders 5,000,000 CHF plus 2,000,000 MCP  also paid by riders).

Between them, just three nations (Germany, France and the Netherlands) have a total of two million registered riders of which 1’599 compete at international level and are registered in the FEI. The trio have won numerous World Championships and Olympic Gold medals, yet their votes count the same as nations without horses or riders, with no activity  and federations that exist in little more than name.

Like the IOC and other International Federations, the FEI should now address this issue and draw up criteria for affiliation establishing a federation’s right to vote. Technical-sporting questions, in particular, require the input of established experts in the field. Other International Federations (eg. the International Skiing Federation) already require a minimum number of athletes and concrete participation at the highest level international events, organization of top international events  in order to vote. Following their lead, our sport would become more professional and credible.  Time-wasting controversies would all but disappear.

More seriously still, some federations, whose riders include Olympic champions, fail to keep in contact or take their members’ opinions into account.

Some have never even discussed the Olympic and WEG formats with their membership.

The IJRC plans to get to the bottom of these issues, make comparisons with other sports and International Federations, and analyze the directives and recommendations of the IOC concerning the involvement of the Athletes.  We do not intend to create controversy but to make concrete suggestions to improve. In the IRJC’s opinion, such issues can no longer be ignored.

IJRC General Assembly Geneva

For the first time in its history, the International Jumping and Riders Club (IJRC) opened its General Assembly to journalists. The event was also broadcast through live streaming attracting 87,000 views.

Present: 39 riders ;

FEI Representatives: Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez and Gaspard Doufur (Head of IT);

Press: Alban Poudret (Le cavalier Romand and CO CSIO Geneva), Umberto Martuscelli (Cavallo Magazine), Olivier Dufour (20 Minutes), Julien Pralong (ATS Sport), Patrick Oberle (Le Matin), Elise Megret (Webstallions); Clement Grandjean (Le cavalier Romand), Oriane Grandjean (Le Cavalier Romand), Susan Finerty (The Irish Field);

Owners Club: represented by Mr and Mrs Megret;

Guest: the Olympic dressage riders Monica Theodorescu and Isabell Werth and many others;

President of NF Switzerland: Charles Troillet.

The main discussion concerned the Olympic and WEG Formats and the speech of IJRC Board member Steve Guerdat focused on these two points:

“The IJRC is working hard and fighting in favour of sport, not politics. The Club has showed engagement in its work and would like to be respected and considered seriously. Unfortunately this is not the case right now, even if we are the ones that make the sport and the show!”

Guerdat went on to mention the letter from the FEI,  in reply to the IJRC letter regarding the Olympic Format,  “Mr. De Vos complained that the IJRC was too late with its proposals, but this is not correct:  we have disagreed with the proposal since the General Assembly in Aachen 2015, at which Mr. De Vos was present”.

Steve Guerdat stated that he also attended the Sport Forum and on that occasion he expressed his opposition to the three riders in a team with a  drop score in the Olympics  - as did the majority of the Chefs d’équipe present.

“The FEI has to understand that the riders are united and deserve more consideration.

The WEG changes approved in Tokyo were never really discussed.

In the FEI’s answer, the Nations Cups’ Final in Barcelona is mentioned, but this cannot be compared with the sport showed at the Olympics.

In the FEI press release we are described as clowns who wake up too late, but the FEI knows very well  that this is not true. We know that the proposal was voted on by the National Federations, but it is also known that many athletes have problems with their own Federation.

I am convinced that we as riders deserve more respect from the FEI and from Mr. Ingmar De Vos, as we are the ones that make our sport!” – Steve Guerdat

Those present greeted Steve Guerdat’s speech with lengthy applause.

The FEI General Secretary Sabrina Ibáñez excused Mr. De Vos’ absence as he was in Hong Kong for a very important meeting, working for the future of our sport. She is the FEI Secretary General and was there representing both Mr. De Vos and the whole of the FEI. She guaranteed that the FEI has a great deal of respect for the riders.

She reported that the IOC made a clear request to the FEI asking for more universality in order to be more attractive both on TV and to live spectators alike. The FEI is convinced that this will only be possible with an increase of flags in equestrian events so that more countries will watch the Olympics on TV, thus increasing broadcasting revenues.

The FEI analyzed the various possibilities for change and found the only solution possible: fewer riders in a team meant more countries in the team competition. Mrs. Ibanez underlined and is convinced that this is the only solution possible.

Meredith Michaels Beerbaum asked about the timetable of the enforcement of this new rule.

Sabrina Ibáñez replied that the FEI has sent the decision taken during its General Assembly in Tokyo to the IOC, which will make its decision in February 2017.

The FEI Secretary General stated that the FEI will be pleased to receive a delegation of riders discuss all issues that make them uncomfortable.

Eleonora Ottaviani underlined that the NFs voted for the proposal and not the FEI. There are some NFs that didn’t follow their riders’ requests.

It is  generally acknowledged  that many National Federations voted in favor of this rule without asking their riders’ opinions.


Cian O’Connor remarked that nobody saw this request from the IOC and that probably there was no specific request to change the Olympic Format. The Equestrian events at the London Olympics were a success in each discipline.

It would be difficult for riders of countries not used at this kind of competition to show such a high level of sport. The risk could also be that course designers have to lower the level of the courses.

Concerning communication between the FEI and the IJRC: when invited, it will always be  possible to find a good delegation of IJRC members to meet the FEI anytime!

About decisions taken by the IJRC: John Madden’s proposal  has never been changed, despite many other possible options over the past two years.

It is also known that a conflict of interest may arise for some members in of the IJRC. Anyway, he continued, the NFs are the mirror of the FEI!

He stated that some NFs did consult their riders, but in the end didn’t listen to them!

Eric Lamaze remarked that the Canadian riders had a meeting with a representative of their NF; the riders told them clearly that they were against the new format,  considering the excellent sport showed in London and Rio on TV. After the meeting they were convinced that the Canadian Federation would not vote in favour of the changes, but they did. This, for all the riders, was frustrating and disappointing.

Those present underlined that:

  • The same thing occurred in other federations, too.

The IJRC works closely with NARG (North American Riders Group) which has more than 300 members. NARG was against the proposal but the USA and Canada Federations voted in favor in despite of their riders’ strong views.

* It is not ‘normal’ that nations with 0 riders and 0 horses can decide on riders’ lives! Eric Lamaze  asked who decided to bring these proposals to the FEI General Assembly?

* Showjumping  is dangerous and is not a sport for everyone. He asked why the riders have to suffer for this? FEI often speaks about Horse Welfare but cancelling the “drop score” goes against that.

* The IOC would like more countries to participate, but considering the success of the last Olympics, why  didn’t the FEI look for other possible  solutions, such as the one outlined in the letter from IJRC to FEI, proposing fewer teams and more individuals?

Concerning the voting system, please have a look to this charts.










Alban Poudret, journalist and show organizer, supported the riders’ position and stated that he attended the Sport Forum from the beginning till the end;  however,  there was no discussion about the changes for the WEG decided in Tokyo!

In his opinion the FEI decision is not logical;  with the Olympics they are opening the doors while for the WEG they are doing exactly the contrary. He asked if there is a possibility for FEI to retrace its steps concerning decisions taken for the WEG: in his opinion cancelling the speed class was a big mistake!

Mr Martuscelli, Italian journalist, intervened and stated that his experience as a speaker over many years has encouraged him to strongly support the riders’ view that a team of 4 would be best. In his opinion the changes for the World Equestrian Games approved in Tokyo are almost worse than those for the Olympics. He stated that he was really surprised as he never saw anything about this proposal in the media and he is sure that even the NFs didn’t know what they were voting on. It is strange that for the Olympics, the FEI conducted a large campaign, while for the WEG little was said.

The new rule cancelling the speed class puts the WEG at the same level as a normal CSIO, seen every weekend at every show.

About the Final of Four, a lot has been said;  the riders’ opinions vary but it is a moment of great and spectacular sport.

It has been said that these decisions were taken for the welfare of the horse, so why haven’t the rules of the European Championships been changed?

Monica Theodorescu, invited as this assembly together with Isabell Werth, brings the experience of Dressage. Discipline that changed this rule from 3 to 4 riders many times. At the last Olympics in Rio the teams were composed by 4 combinations and there was the highest level since long time. Therefore they fully support the jumping riders position.

Andy Kistler (representative of the team chiefs) proposed that the  IJRC send a letter directly to the IOC: this has already been done, but the IOC asked IJRC to discuss this item directly with the FEI.

At this point the FEI should decide whose side they are on: the NFs or the riders?  The FEI and IJRC should be heading in the same direction.

The proposal was accepted by the Assembly.

Mr. Magret (owners’ representative) said that the Jumping Owners Club is in full agreement with the IJRC and that it has their complete support.  

Many others comments followed before the Invitation System project, was presented by Mr. Dufour from the FEI. He introduced the new concept for the Jumping Invitation & Entry System,  voted on in Tokyo.

The system is now in a development phase. From March 2017 to July/December 2017 a testing and validation phase begins,  and in January 2018 the new online invitation system will be full launched.

The riders are concerned that entry is requested eight weeks before the event. But  the system will certainly be an advantage for the future of the sport.

Blood Rule

Two sets of rules were shown on the screen: FEI Eventing article 526.4 and FEI Jumping article 242.3.1 with sanctions that are contradictory.

In Eventing, the judge “may disqualify”;  in Jumping “must disqualify” appears in the rules.

We may need to discuss this in order to give the Jumping judge the chance to adjudicate case by case.

The IJRC believes that a violation, in case of blood, must be sanctioned. But there should be different kind of sanctions in case of accident or voluntary, minor or major violations. Consequences must be considered by the judges as in some countries abuse of horses means the riders may also be sanctioned under criminal law  (eg. France, Italy)

The IJRC asks the FEI for the chance to meet the legal department and discuss.

Martin Fuchs asked the FEI to think about and find the best way to communicate disqualification: when it is proved that blood on the horse is caused by accident, the rider should not be disgraced.


The IJRC members kindly request the FEI:

  1. To verify the criteria for membership of the FEI (horses’/riders’ international participation; FIS Statutes request minimum 500 Athletes)

  2. To consider that technical matters should be put into force by those who are involved in the sport. Only federations with Olympic athletes have the right to vote on Olympic regulations.

  3. To listen to the athletes’ voices and consider them as serious professionals; to come towards the riders and make positive steps to get to know them!

The IJRC thanks the FEI’s General Secretary, Sabrina Ibáñez, for offering to receive a riders’ delegation for a meeting at FEI headquarters to discuss various points.

Kevin Staut, IJRC Board member, would like the FEI to take note that the riders strongly support the IJRC Committee, their actions and the work they are doing.

He is happy about the presence of the press and so many people at this General Assembly and asks them to bring our voice to the outside world as up to now, nobody has listened to us.

At this point the only chance we have is for the IOC to reject the FEI proposal for the new Olympic Format.

Closing the Assembly the IJRC President Christina Liebherr asked  IJRC members to share their opinions about the new regulations  on social media.

The IJRC plans to analyze these issues in depth (whilst making comparisons with other sports and considering the directives and recommendations of the IOC). Acceptable solutions will be firmly supported.  In this sense, the IJRC is ready to contribute to constructive debate with the FEI in the interests of equestrian sport and of those who have truly taken its future to heart.

(to watch all the IJRC General Assembly click the link: