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FEI moves to protect Olympic interests

Greenwich Park, where equestrian events were held for London 2012. Having horse sports in the cite center is a rare occurrence at the Olympics.

Greenwich Park, where equestrian events were held for London 2012. Having horse sports in the cite center is a rare occurrence at the Olympics.

The push by the FEI to create an Olympic Council is part of a strategy to protect the place of equestrian sport in the Olympic programme, it has been revealed.

The FEI Bureau made the decision during a teleconference late last week to seek backing for the council.

The proposal will be put to the FEI’s Extraordinary General Assembly to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 29, where national federations are set to vote on a proposal to extend the maximum term of the presidency for any one individual from two four-year terms to three.

The FEI will also delay this year’s full General Assembly, originally set for early November, until December – after an Extraordinary Session of the International Olympic Committee, to be held in Monaco on December 8-9.

FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos, in signalling the extra Olympic Council item on the agenda for the special April meeting, explained that the proposal was about protecting the interests of equestrian sport as an Olympic discipline.

De Vos, referring to the IOC  December meeting, said: “The bureau strongly believes the FEI should undertake all the necessary and possible actions to protect the place of equestrian sport in the Olympic programme.”

De Vos told national federations that the bureau felt the council was needed to address this specific situation, as well as to provide a framework to address Olympic and IOC matters directly with IOC members with a link with equestrian sport.

The bureau wants to create the council and “consolidate” it within FEI statutes.

It proposes that the council will comprise the FEI president; all IOC members (and honorary members) with an equestrian background; other representatives invited by the FEI president; the chairs of the FEI Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing committees; and the FEI secretary general.

The proposal says the FEI president will chair the council.

Current FEI president Princess Haya is a member of the IOC, having been elected to the body. The FEI is not entitled to a position on the IOC as a matter of right.

The global reach of equestrian sport and the inclusion of the key disciplines in the Olympic movement are widely considered crucial to the future wellbeing and growth of horse sports.

However, it is not a mainstream Olympic discipline and is by no means in the Olympic programme as a matter of right, even though its Games history spans 100 years.

FEI President Princess Haya walks the Greenwich Park Olympic cross-country course with London 2012 equestrian manager Tim Haddaway.

FEI President Princess Haya walks the Greenwich Park Olympic cross-country course with London 2012 equestrian manager Tim Haddaway. © Kit Houghton/FEI

Princess Haya has publicly aired concerns in the past, stirring controversy in 2008 when she warned that equestrian sport’s hold on its Olympic status faced scrutiny.

Haya was reported by Horse & Hound in Britain as saying there was no guarantee that horse sports could survive in the Olympics beyond 2012. “The FEI has a huge fight to even get to 2012,” she said at the time.

“The IOC has heard from our stakeholders and wrote to us about the set-up and presentation of dressage. The popularity of dressage is abnormally low and there are complaints about judging and the makeup of judging panels and committees,” she said. “Anyone who thinks equestrian sports are secure for London is mistaken.

“The IOC has very reasonable and legitimate concerns about eventing safety and the way the dressage committee is working.

“It could also be the end of show jumping as an Olympic sport, too, as they are unlikely to leave it on its own.”

Her comments came at a darker time for equestrian sport, not long after the Beijing Olympics, during which horse events were held in Hong Kong.

Horse doping at the Beijing Games was a major embarrassment for equestrian sport, which managed the dubious distinction of more positive dope tests on horses than on human athletes across the entire Games. Norway was to ultimately lose its bronze medal in showjumping as a result.

While the doping cases involved the application of a substance to the skin, and many would be prepared to accept it was more an error than a wilful act, the IOC was clearly unimpressed.

However, since then, equestrian sport would appear to have strengthened its case for Olympic inclusion. The London equestrian programme, with its high-profile central London venue at Greenwich Park, was widely considered a triumph.

The FEI’s Clean Sport initiative has since been put in place, and eventing safety has continued to make considerable strides.

The Olympic Horses jump from Greenwich.

The Olympic Horses jump at Greenwich.

Equestrian sport brings several plusses to the Olympic table. It is the only mixed sport at the Games and has a high ratio of female participation. It also provides an avenue for Games participation for older athletes.

While many nations have little interest in equestrian pursuits, many of the world’s major sporting nations also do well in equestrian competition, which means television audiences in lucrative markets are reasonably strong.

The IOC has put in place a programme of discussion and working groups in the leadup to the December special meeting, with a raft of areas up for discussion, including:

  • Studying the extent to which sports and disciplines either relegated from or seeking inclusion in the Olympic programme could receive special treatment to be on the programme.
  • Considering continental games as part of the qualification system for the Olympic Games.
  • Basing the Olympic programme on disciplines and events rather than sports.
  • Considering the impact on venue requirements when choosing sports.
  • Consulting each host city on the composition of the Olympic programme.

Earlier blog: How safe is equestrian sport in the Olympic movement?

Greenwich Park, venue for the Olympic Equestrian events of London 2012.

Greenwich Park, venue for the Olympic Equestrian events of London 2012.

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