Global Champions Series Fall Foul OF Competition Authority

Credit : LGCT

Friday 22 December - 13h26 | Lulu Kyriacou

Global Champions Series Fall Foul OF Competition Authority

Jan Tops will once again have to step into the legal arena as the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) has enlisted the support of the Belgian Competition Authority  (BCA) to make sure that both the Longines Global Champions Tour and The Global Champions League are forced to comply with the invitational system that applies to all international jumping shows outside continental championships, such as the Olympic Games.

What is the real problem.....

What is the real problem..... - Global Champions Series Fall Foul OF Competition Authority

McLain Ward. still No.2 with hardly an appearance at the LGCT
Credit : The Book Llc

Having failed to get the FEI to include both the Global Champions Tour and League in the statutes on the invitation of riders to shows, the matter has been bought to the BCA by members of the IJRC, and an interim judgment has been made (until the case is heard in full) against the Jan Tops-founded series, a press release from tjhe BCA confirmed yesterday.

The subject has been dividing the sport's leading exponents for some time and Henk Nooren, the French team coach and former international rider, had explained in November that the rules of LGCT and GCL were not the same as on other circuits and this prevented the proper functioning of the rankings. On the Jan Tops circuits, an FEI memorandum of understanding signed in February 2017   allowed only up to 30% of participants to be invited according to their world ranking.
10% were then selected by the national federation of the host country and 60% invited by the organizers, mostly in exchange for big cheques. This allows riders of a more modest level to compete at a 5* show and win massive prize money, which can skew the rankings in their favour.

And this is actually where the problem lies. It is not the invitation system itself but the fact that everything in show jumping is determined by rider ranking and those rankings are created exclusively by money won. Therefore, as an extreme example, if a 2* class is run in Timbuktu worth £3 million to the winner and it was won by Joe Bloggs from Outer Mongolia, on his 18-year-old former 5* horse, Joe Bloggs would top the rankings and be entitled to the first invitation to every show in which he fancied competing until either the year ended or someone won more money. In addition, ranking position during the qualifying period determines which individuals can compete at an Olympic Games or other championship.  

All about the money

All about the money - Global Champions Series Fall Foul OF Competition Authority

Michael Jung at Badminton, eventing rankings are abut points not money
Credit : Badminton Horse Trials

In dressage and eventing, rankings do not determine the invitation system. Any rider can enter any event if appropriately qualified. There may be a ballot if oversubscribed to eliminate the least well-qualified and, as in showjumping, the national federations get a certain amount of 'wild cards' for their national riders, who must still be qualified.  Points are awarded for each placing and competitors must be qualified by performance in other classes before they can even enter, say Badminton Horse Trials or a World Cup dressage qualifier.  This means it is almost impossible to buy your way into one of the big prestige shows, which keeps the sport 'pure' as only the best will get to compete. In addition the star rating of the classes is ENTIRELY dependent on difficulty level in this disciplines,  so if you want to win you will have had to compete at the highest level.  The Event Rider Masters series carries more prize money than most CCI3* classes but is still only a CIC3* series because of the difficulty of the phases.
In showjumping, star levels are decided in part by the amount of prize money available. So if you are a rich person in Mongolia, you can organise a show, offer £5 million in prize money  but have the height at 1.45m.  As few international riders will wish to travel that far, you can be sure that some of your 2* riders will win at last part of the massive prize money, jump up the rankings and ensure  your country is represented at the next Olympic Games or World Championships.

After one billionaire did exactly that for the 2006 World Championships, the rules regarding this were slightly tightened but in principle remain much the same and this is really why the IJRC need the invitational system to be run the same everywhere.

The last time Jan Tops organizations fell under the rule of the BCA, it was when the Global Champions League was created. On this occasion the BCA initially found in Tops' favour when they decided that the FEI could not have a complete exclusive on showjumping competition. To avoid massive time-consuming litigation, a compromise was reached to allow the GCT to invited lower-ranked riders to complete the teams (in the name of encouraging younger and less experienced riders). The GCT also had to modify their competition format (in the name of horse welfare, apparently) so the Grand Prix became only one round with a potential jump off. Not all the classes (and prize money!) was allowed to count for the ranking system but this has still not satisfied the critics.


Quality Sacrificed for Quantity?

Quality Sacrificed for Quantity? - Global Champions Series Fall Foul OF Competition Authority

Harrie Smolders, LGCT champion but still not World Number One

The Longines Global Champions Tour is planning to feature 20 shows in 2018 as compared to the 15 in 2017, which has prompted concerns. But the dominance of LGCT victories is not entirely supported by the rankings. Kent Farrington, World Number One, has not competed in all of them, McLain Ward (Number Two) in even fewer. There are plenty of big money classes in the US though that helps account for this dominance. Kevin Staut (Number Three) is an LGCT regular but his world ranking is not really due to that, as he has not won an LGCT Grand Prix this season, only had one podium finish there and does not compete in the Global Champions League at all. He has a big string of horses and seems to never take a day off!  Harrie Smolders, despite winning the LGCT overall title by a mile, is still not World Number One.
What has happened is that the quality of the sport at the LGCT seems to have suffered. Ten years ago, if the top 30 were invited, you would expect at least 27 of them to attend. It was extremely unusual to have to go below 40 in the rankings to fill the spots. The wild card entries were not allowed to compete in the Grand Prix and so the concern that you could buy your way to a quarter of a million pound win was not a concern. The wild cards were mostly bought by wealthy patrons who wished to jump at the same shows as their riders e.g. Eduard de Rothschild and Luciana Dinz. The Grand Prix can now be 'qualified' for in the last round of the Global Champions League at each show, an against the clock class over a 1.45m track.  Because the top riders generally do not want to gallop their very best horses round in these sort of classes, the LGCT had to put in a rule to allow a horse change for qualified riders, the effects of which were notably demonstrated for good and bad reasons in London this year -- Scott Brash and Ben Maher making the best of it to finish first and second whereas John Whitaker had a fall from his substitution.   The rule changes mean there are a few 'lucky' clears and riders getting through to the Grand Prix that would not have got through to the second round under the old system. While this promoted diversity and encourages lower-ranked riders, as a sporting spectacle, the classes are not as exciting as a few years ago when the LGCT tag line was "the best in show jumping" and it was; the best horses, the best riders, the best venues and the best prize money. The brand is being diluted and with it, the effect of its huge prize money as other companies like EEM offer big money and bonuses. And the jump-off's have not beem comparable to those of the FEI World Cup Qualifiers for excitement.

No rider has the horse power or the time to compete in every five star show, no matter who is running it. Yes, if our friend Joe Bloggs wins the LGCT Grand Prix in Qatar (or whererever!) that may well skew the rankings but he still had to jump a 5* 1.60m course to do it and if that same one off win gets Joe Bloggs riding for Mongolia at the Olympics, the first and second rounds are there to make sure the winner is a worthy champion.  

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