''I am ashamed of my sport'': New Controversy in Show Jumping World

Steve Guerdat and Albfuehrens Happiness
Credit : Sportfot

Thursday 16 March - 16h20 | Morgane Kubicki, Laure Eliot and Ian Clayton

''I am ashamed of my sport'': New Controversy in Show Jumping World

This past week has seen a new controversy flare up in the Show Jumping world  — a debate raising fundamental questions about the nature of and access to equestrian sports.

 - ''I am ashamed of my sport'': New Controversy in Show Jumping World

Patrice Delaveau and Ornella Mail HDC
Credit : Scoopdyga

It all revolves around the resources riders need to compete in the sport at different levels.

Last weekend, the European Equestrian Federation (EEF) announced that the Fédération équestre internationale (FEI) — the world governing body for Olympic discipline equestrian sports — was considering the harmonization of entry fees for CSI 2, 3 and 4*s (show jumping competitions) between Europe and the United States. The plans have sparked impassioned reactions at the highest levels of the sport. 

Under the new plan, the harmonized fee structure between the two continental systems would be based on the American model of charging a percentage of the total prize money for an event. And it has been estimated that this would double and even triple the participation costs for European riders. For example, top Swiss rider Steve Guerdat has said that with the new scenario, entry fees for CSI 2* competitions would rise from 400 euros up to 1,200 euros, and even more for 3* shows. 

The possibility has been met with dismay by established European riders, who have expressed fears about the future of their sport and the capacity of up-and-comers to continue their development. 

“I am not ashamed to say that it is the first time I am ashamed of my sport, because I think sport should be about talent and not about money,” Guerdat declared. Even for an elite rider such as himself, Guerdat says, it would not be possible to register in as many competitions and continue to develop horses as before. 

Other top riders such as France’s Kevin Staut have also spoken out against the idea, and a social media campaign with the hashtag #notoharmonizing has been launched. Indeed, in the days following the announcement, a wave of protest from elite riders has risen up. “We have to mobilize against this heresy!”, said France’s Patrice Delaveau. “Europe has nothing to envy concerning the America model, which in any case is not a model — we do not function like them and moreover our system produces many more champions and champion horses.”

"Our profession and our sport are in danger”

Our profession and our sport are in danger” - ''I am ashamed of my sport'': New Controversy in Show Jumping World

Ingmar De Vos
Credit : FEI

"Our profession and our sport are in danger,” added Delaveau’s countryman Thomas Rousseau, in the face of a measure which could restrict access to CSI 2 and 3*s. For his part, Australia’s Chris Chugg — who has been in the practice of developing his horses from a young age up to the highest level — said, “Sport should be a question of talent and not money. This measure will slowly but surely kill the sport.”

But what has also emerged in the discussion is the sense that riders are fed up with a perception that they are not being listened to. “Let’s hope that the opinions of those who practice the sport are heard and taken into consideration,” stated Israeli rider Daniel Bluman, for example, who wants a return to the fundamentals of the sport: ’’a horse and a rider.’’ Bluman wishes to see an environment where ’’all good riders with a good horse, at a given moment, have a chance to make a name for themselves on international circuits.”

In Valkenswaard, the Netherlands this week for the launch of the Global Champions League, the president of the FEI, Ingmar de Vos, took the opportunity to respond to the riders’ complaints — explaining and clarifying the equestrian world governing body’s position on possible changes to entry fees. 

“The situation in Europe is very different from the rest of the world," he said. "We are asking, and it is just a question, if it is not time to think about a harmonization of fees. It’s a valid question."

Responding to the alarm about the idea first raised by Marco Fuste, Sönke Lauterbach, Henk Nooren and Theo Ploegmakers through the EEF, the Belgian FEI president said, “We see it as a commentary rather than a protest.” De Vos reiterated that the idea of harmonizing European and American entry fees is not a fait accompli, and that the Federation wants to engage with all stakeholders about the issue. 

At a press conference in the magnificent stables of Jan Tops for the 2017 launch of Tops’ Global Champions League (GCL) and Global Champions Tour (GCT), Ingmar de Vos was also asked about the memorandum of understanding signed between the FEI and the powerful Dutch organizer, which has also raised questions about access to high level competition circuits. Guerdat, for example, referred to the deal as a 'secret agreement.'

For example, only the fifteen top-ranked riders in the world will now be invited on the GCT, instead of thirty best. Others must be part of a GCL team (and thus pay part of the 2 million euros necessary for a team registration) or use a Paycard. “Riders have more opportunities than ever,” De Vos countered, adding that, “I wish to also make clear that the Nations Cup remains our number one priority”…. All the while reminding the gathered media that that Nations Cup circuit is still looking for its own sponsor.

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