Qatar heading to Olympic Games for first time

12 March - News that the Qatari showjumping team has qualified for its first ever Olympic Games has brought into focus again the tougher task facing Britain, Ireland and other top European sides still struggling to get a ticket to Rio 2016.

Qatar qualified last month (19 February) on the strength of winning a straightforward two-round Nations Cup in Abu Dhabi. Trained by Dutch supremo Jan Tops — Olympian and founder of the Global Champions Tour — the Qataris are understood to have an even bigger budget for horses than Saudi Arabia enjoyed in the run-up to London 2012, where the country won team bronze.

Qatar was without doubt the strongest of the Middle Eastern squads on the day, although teams from the rest of the world making up the numbers — notably Germany and the Netherlands — were not fielding elite riders.

In contrast, Britain will be fighting for its Rio place at the European championships in the huge grass arena of Aachen. Team GB will need to be within the top three teams not already qualified to head to Rio.

Britain missed out on qualification at the World Equestrian Games last year by failing to finish in the top five. Qatar beat Britain there by three places, in 15th.

Remaining teams from North and South America also have to qualify at a continental championship — the Pan Am Games — although Brazil automatically runs at Rio as hosts.

Asked why qualification for Middle Eastern teams appears easier, the FEI explained that there was no suitable continental championship — the Asian Games are held over courses not exceeding 1.40m. There are similar constraints for Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and South-East Asia and Oceania, for which special qualifying events are designated.

“The qualification system is reviewed and approved by the International Olympic Committee before publication,” said an FEI spokesman.