With FEI General Assembly now finished, a look at the president's plans for equestrian sport

Credit : Scoopdyga

Wednesday 21 November - 14h08 | Sébastien Roullier

With FEI General Assembly now finished, a look at the president's plans for equestrian sport

At this year’s Fédération Équestre Internationale General Assembly, which wrapped up Tuesday evening in the Persian Gulf country of Bahrain, the world governing body for equestrian sports’ president Ingmar De Vos, in office since 2014, was re-elected unopposed for another four-year term. In the lead-up to the meeting, the Belgian evaluated his first four years in a document published by the FEI, and set himself various objectives for the second term. Below, an overview of the that vision by Grand Prix’s editorial director.  

 - With FEI General Assembly now finished, a look at the president's plans for equestrian sport

Without surprise, Ingmar De Vos is now beginning a second mandate as president of the FEI – indeed, he had already announced that intention to GRANDPRIX at the Swiss-based institution’s Sports Forum in March in Lausanne. In Bahrain, far away from the major competition venues in the world – a remoteness which has become common for this annual international meeting, even if this Gulf state is hosting several endurance races this year – De Vos’ election was thus more of a coronation than a cliff-hanger. 

In any case, the Belgian did not pass up on the opportunity to map out his vision for the institution he leads. In the lead-up to the event, De Vos, the first paid president of the FEI, laid it out in a 15-page document entitled ‘A Roadmap for the Future.’ The manifesto begins as follows: “It has truly been a great honour for me to serve you as FEI President for the past four years. My programme for 2014-2018 was ambitious but I believe that 80% of what I pledged to do has been done, thanks to the fantastic cooperation with our National Federations, our stakeholders and the wonderful FEI HQ staff. But some points are still “under construction” and, with work still to do, I am standing for a second term. Declaring that his passion for equestrian sports and the FEI remains as strong as ever, Ingmar De Vos then delivers an assessment of his action to date and what he expects is still to come. 
According to the former secretary general of the FEI, who had succeeded Princess Haya bint al-Hussein of Jordan as president in December, 2014, the FEI must pursue and expand its communications initiatives, notably with regard to the rebroadcast of competitions and the institution’s presence on social media. “We cannot miss this train, so we need to explore new horizons and follow the new trends,” he notes. 

De Vos then tackles the issue of engaging with youth, another flagship priority for his second term, which had previously been raised at the 2018 FEI Sports Forum: “Identifying how our fans consume the sport, particularly the youth, is crucial to our ongoing growth and sustainability in a cluttered sporting landscape. The youth are our future and their involvement in the sport is not only essential for its ongoing success in terms of participation, it also helps in adapting the sport to the common trends. As a sport we need to be relevant to this youth audience, utilising the communication channels they use. For my next term as FEI President I will continue to engage with youth, listen to them, put a youth development programme in place and grow our fan base amongst a younger audience.”

Ingmar De Vos similarly intends to promote the equality of the sexes in the equestrian world, an issue which is as important as it is topical throughout society. And while show jumping, eventing and dressage are still the only Olympic disciplines where men and women compete against each other – a feature which provides an advantage to equestrian sports and the FEI on this point – work remains to be done with respect to the presence of women in national and international organizations. “Regretfully women are still under-represented in decision-making positions,” he observes. “Of the athletes registered to participate in our international events, 60% are women and 40% are men, and our fan base is heavily female dominated. We must motivate more of these women to contribute to the governance of the sport by applying for positions and offering their expertise to our organisation. We must also actively promote this policy with our National Federations.”

Proud of what he sees as solid governance at the FEI – a view which has been recognized by different independent observers, he notes – De Vos clearly wishes to build on this momentum: “It is [a] work in progress and we need to question and challenge our own structures at all times so that we can continue to improve, both at the FEI and our NFs.”

The president is also pleased with what he sees as the strength of the FEI Solidarity program, aimed at supporting the development of equestrian sports in diverse countries around the world: In the field of development, during my visits to many National Federations across all the continents, I identified a real need for independent experts that are prepared to share and transfer their knowledge and expertise. For this reason, the FEI Solidarity Committee has started working on a programme to make this possible and is identifying experts in the area of development that will contribute to this programme funded by the FEI and create a lasting legacy. Since the FEI Solidarity programme was created in 2012, we have already invested close to 14 million Swiss francs on 284 National Federation projects in 88 countries, education, transport and quarantine, and related operating expenses.” Continued below. 

Sport and the Olympic competition format

Sport and the Olympic competition format - With FEI General Assembly now finished, a look at the president's plans for equestrian sport

France's Philippe Rozier on Rahotep de Toscane at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Credit : Scoopdyga

Concerning the sport itself, he observes that it “has continued to grow over the last four years and there is still a lot of potential. But growth brings many challenges. Maintaining a fair and level playing field and preserving the integrity of the sport is an ongoing mission and many initiatives have been developed in this field with the help of other organisations such as the IOC. If we want to promote our sport in the best way possible, we need to make the sport accessible, exciting and easy to understand for a larger audience. This means also that our competition formats need to be adapted for modern television and digital media. In 2015 we started to discuss new Olympic Formats which after a thorough process of discussions and consultation, also with the IOC, resulted in the approval of new formats for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.” And yet all of that has of course not taken place without difficulty – notably in show jumping and eventing, where there was the sometimes fierce opposition of a majority of riders, coaches, trainers, chefs d’equipe and owners: “In the period running up to the Tokyo Olympics we will have to test these new formats also with the involvement of the Olympic Broadcast Services, the Official Timekeeper and ORIS (Olympic Results and Information Management Service). Failure is not an option and we need to do it right from the start as this will help us to consolidate our position in the Olympic programme. We also need to continue working on a better presentation of our sport by introducing new technologies, graphics and applications that are exciting for spectators. A lot of preparation work has been done in this field over the last years and it is now time to implement new technologies at all our events.”

World Equestrian Games
The broad equestrian sports community is also waiting to see exactly what the FEI will end up doing with regard to the World Equestrian Games, whose most recent edition in Tryon in September was marked by serious problems: “Although we have further strengthened the minimum eligibility criteria, we must recognise that due to the successful development of our sport in many regions it is more and more difficult to find organisers that are capable of organising an event of such magnitude. It is also increasingly difficult for NFs to send athletes in all the disciplines for which their athletes achieved the minimum eligibility requirements. We must have the courage to look at the future of our World Championships and ask if the WEG is still the best format. Closely related to this is also the New Norm introduced by the IOC to reduce costs for organisers and develop concepts that make it again feasible for organisers to bid to host World Championships. Whereas we still would promote multi-disciplinary bids, we must ask ourselves if it is still realistic to impose a model integrating all our disciplines in one event. If we want to be successful we need to have a model that creates competition and can interest a lot of organisers rather than having to fight to find and motivate one organiser for WEG….We will review our Games and Championships objective and with an open mind in order to make the best choices for the future and sustainability of our sport.” Between the lines, it seems clear that the FEI will propose to Games organizers the option of selecting seven, six, or even just five disciplines among the eight possible. It seems clear then that endurance – and possibly reining – will no longer be part of the WEG. 

Even though he is treading on thin ice on this topic since signing a still-secret agreement with the promoters of the Longines Global Champions Tour/Global Champions League, the Belgian at the head of the global equestrian body raises the prickly issue of a more and more crowded international CSI 5* competition calendar – made up of competitions which are not all equal and thus distort the calculation of the prestigious Longines world rider rankings. “In my view, this increase [in competitions – editor’s note] is not a real problem as the growth in the number of events goes hand-in-hand with the growth of our sport and, at the same time, answers to market demands," he feels. "The growth of the number of athletes that are capable of competing at the highest level explains the need for more top events in our Calendar. We need to identify the real high-level events that showcase our sport, and we need to have a better structured approach to inserting them in the Calendar to avoid date clashes, but always respecting anti-trust legislation.”A difficult task…  And along those lines, the 55-year-old president points to what he sees as the merits of the new CSI invitation system, meant to stem the controversial impact of pay-cards, financial tolls which have allowed certain competition organizers to increase their prize money to the detriment of riders ranked outside the top 20 in the world. Unfortunately, this system still does not apply to the LGCT/GCL despite the legal questions raised with Belgian competition authorities by Lisa Nooren, who is notably supported by the European Equestrian Federation and the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC).

In order to make the overall system function better, admits Ingmar De Vos, it seems imperative that another look is taken at the attribution of stars to CSIs (1*–5*) and their relation to the global ranking, overseen by the IJRC: “We all agree that the level of prize money should not be the only parameter to define the level of an Event. Over [the past few] years the Event Classification System (ECS) has been further developed and improved with evaluation possibilities for all relevant stakeholders. However, we need to decide for what purpose we will use ECS in the future and whether we will use it as a tool to identify a limited number of ‘real’ top level events that may lead to the creation of a new additional layer of events on top of the existing structure [a 6* level – editor’s note] with additional points for the rankings…. Without wanting to pre-empt the outcome we need at least to have an open discussion involving all stakeholders. We are committed to addressing this topic at a Sports Forum during my next term. The best protection is guaranteeing the highest quality… We will do our utmost to help the organisers of FEI named events such as the FEI Nations Cup and FEI World Cup meet the highest standards in order to further promote and develop these series according to the highest ECS standards.” Continued below. 

Grooms, equine well-being, sponsorship

Grooms, equine well-being, sponsorship - With FEI General Assembly now finished, a look at the president's plans for equestrian sport

Sun Liming, Executive Director of China National Sports International with FEI President Ingmar De Vos
Credit : FEI/Yuanpu Xia

In this long and detailed document, the only candidate to his own succession as president also discusses the issues of borrowed horses, integrity, promotion of the sport, universality and accessibility, international horse movement (still limited in South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania by the veterinary rules in different countries), as well as athletes and their rights, the legal system and the principle of the presumption of innocence, and the challenges facing competition organizers and officials. He also looks at the other stakeholders in the sport, particularly grooms, who still do not have an official status within the equestrian family despite their fundamental role in horse well-being. “I strongly believe that we must reach out more to a group that often has been neglected, namely, the grooms. As they take care of our horses, day in and day out, and travel with them from event to event, we should make more effort to better understand and support them. Several preparatory meetings have been held with representatives of the grooms. We will continue these efforts and will help them create their own international association in order to have a representative body with whom we can interact. Grooms will also be integrated in the ECS and we are in the process of creating a mobile application specifically for them. The ultimate goal would be to register the grooms and provide them with a certificate after an online course and exam in order to recognise their crucial role in the equestrian world.”

Equine well-being 
Further on, a long paragraph treats the importance of animal well-being for the FEI, something which De Vos says is, “always our priority. This is the responsibility of the whole community, but the FEI must clearly take the lead. Awareness of the importance of horse welfare must be present in all that we do and must inform all decisions the FEI and our community make. With the globalisation of our sport, we have an important challenge to promote FEI values and standards with regards to horse welfare across the world. Equine welfare is very much related to horsemanship as it defines the attitude we need to have regarding our horses: respect for horse welfare is a key factor of horsemanship…. But promoting is not enough. We must have the courage to evaluate our disciplines according to our values and take our responsibility to also make the necessary changes to bring them, if necessary, back in line with our values…. When establishing and reviewing rules, I will ensure that we always consider the impact on horse welfare and that we are also proactive in identifying new practices that could have an impact…. We need to continue our efforts and investment in research focused on safeguarding horse welfare in the most proactive way possible.” Those efforts are expected to be focused on the problem-plagued endurance discipline as well as the management of safety risks in eventing. 
Finally, another major issue: sponsors and commercial partners. On that topic, the FEI president extols what he sees as his institution’s good financial health and the arrival of eight new partners engaged in different ways with the FEI – something which does not diminish the fact that the Nations Cups of eventing and dressage still do not have any such backing, as is also the case with the dressage, driving and vaulting World Cups.  
In short, the returning president will have his work cut out for him over the four years. (Original document here). 

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