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Tim Stockdale: "The ranking list cannot end up as our single most important selection tool"

Thursday, 11 January 2018
Opinions

OPINIONS | By Tim Stockdale


"I have been in the sport for over thirty years now. Much has changed in showjumping over those years, but there is one change I have noticed more than others. Back in my younger days, the sport had big names. Harvey Smith, David Broome, Paul Schockemöhle, Pierre Durand or Franke Sloothaak – they were some of them.

If they were number 5, number 8 or number 45 on the world ranking – no one cared. There was never a number attached to any of these names, unless it counted the medals they won. That identified their success. They were champions. They were the pinnacle of our sport. Take Eddie Macken for example, he was highly successful with his horse Boomerang in the 1970s – but kept his appeal years and years after that partnership had come to an end, simply because he in fact was Eddie Macken by name. Stars were stars, and which world rank these riders were did not detract anything from their name.

The status of the world ranking has changed dramatically, especially over the last years. Today, it dictates invitations to the biggest shows in the world – by its descending order. It has become a selection tool, not only for show organizers. It identifies success, or let’s be precise: Recent success.

I’ll start with what I think is positive about the world ranking. It gives our sport a storyline, which comes in good from a marketing point-of-view. An example: The London International Horse Show at Olympia can announce that as many as seven out of the world’s Top 10 is coming to their show. That creates interest and importance for the event. In this regard, it also raises riders’ profiles, and it identifies those that have been on good form.

With every positive comes a negative. The world ranking list has several.

The worst with it, is in my opinion the chase it has created for points. The world ranking has become an obsession for a lot of riders. This is not good for the welfare of the horses, and it is not good for the welfare of the riders either. The difference is: Riders can choose, horses can’t.

If a rider chooses to be on the move fifty weeks of the year to compete, that is his or hers’ choice – whatever effect that might have on that person’s private life, or health for that matter. 

When a rider competes internationally fifty weeks of the year, it normally means that rider’s horses travel a lot too – constantly. With today’s schedules, the horses fly to Miami, Shanghai, Hong-Kong – all sorts of exotic locations. Then, on other weekends they find themselves in La Coruna, Spain on a Sunday night after three days of competition to have a two-day travel back up to Britain, trot-up on Wednesday and start jumping on Thursday at Olympia. This happens on a weekly basis, and I don’t believe it’s healthy for anybody. The worst is, that it is the system itself that encourages this type of behaviour.

To make it into the Top 100 is not easy. Making it into the Top 35 and upwards is even harder. Once you have made it in, the system forces riders to compete just to stay there, and some will do that.  Especially when the invitations for the shows uses the world ranking list. It becomes a chase to stay as high up as possible. It’s not healthy and it’s not in the sports best interest.

My point is: We have got to be careful that we don’ t end up not recognising riders that are an asset to our sport, and have been so for a long while. The ranking list cannot end up as our single most important selection tool.

To illustrate: What is of most value to the show organizers and the public? The invitation of whoever is rank number four in the world at that particular moment, or for example the invitation of the legendary Roger Yves Bost who is lower ranked? Bosty is, like many other big names, always great value for the money. An asset to any show no matter what rank he is: Acrobatic, with his own style and always trying to win. A legend in his own right.

The ranking list, in its descending order, as an invitation tool is unhealthy for other reasons too. Every weekend you end up watching the same horses and riders compete at the biggest events. No new blood is allowed in. That is not good for the sport, certainly not from a spectator-point-of-view either.

As an invitation or selection means, I would conclude that the world ranking list encourages the wrong behaviour and it also encourages the wrong type of invitations.

It’s easy to be a critic without possible solutions. So, what should we change?

From 2018 we will have new invitation rules. Reading the marked-up version of these, with all the changes in red, Annex V is not exactly a sight for sore eyes. Reading it will send you straight off to sleep. However, under the new rules invitations for five-star shows – with the exceptions of the Nations Cup-events, the World Cup events and LGCT/GCL-events – will follow a divided percentage of 60-20-20. The world ranking is the heavyweight with the largest percent, the remaining forty is split in two between home riders (national federations) and show organizers.

Asking riders to decline invitations before the deadline is a logistical nightmare for all parties. In effect the Top 30 riders in the world will be receiving invitations to every show in the world. They will then be asked to choose which shows they want to attend, leaving it too late for the lower ranked riders to get their team organised to go!

In my opinion, this invitation system is far too rigid – the effect of the ranking should be softened. Show organizers are dictated too strongly by it. The way I see it, show organisers at 5*, 4* and 3* level should be allowed more flexibility when it comes to inviting who they want. That would also stop the encouragement of the same riders going to all the five-star shows.

Inviting riders in a descending order from the world ranking might all sound good, but actually we are feeding the monster eating us. Why don’t  we make it more open and give the organisers a different quota for the invitations for 5*, 4* and 3* events where a certain number of riders need to be within the Top 100 for the five-stars, for four-stars within the Top 150 and for three-stars within the Top 250?

The best riders would be invited anyhow because everybody wants them at their show, but it gives the organisers more flexibility in adding and changing the names – still sticking to those that are among the best in the world, just not necessarily in the very top.

We need to have rules that can be enforced and applied. That is never easy. So far the FEI has had little success of stopping the so-called pay cards. They come in different forms and I don’t like any of them. At some shows it’s like going to a restaurant – you get a full menu of options with what you can order and pay for. If you want this, it costs that. If the FEI thinks that pay cards don’t exist, they have to wake up and smell the coffee. People pay to compete, they pay to get up on the ranking and it puts the meritocracy of the sport in danger when it competes against people’s bank balances.

Pay cards are selfish and degrades our sport rather than benefitting it. I also believe it prevents proper sponsors getting engaged. Big brands don’t want to be involved if it is not performance-based sport, where shady deals are involved. We should be careful with our reputation, and also see too that we don’t end up as a sport only the rich can afford.

I also think we should try a new approach – similar to what they do in golf: Bona fide sponsors' wild cards. This would mean that if an athlete is sponsored by – let’s say – Volkswagen, the brand could sponsor the event and have their rider compete in return. I believe this would open doors and have a ripple effect: The sponsor would bring its representatives and clients to the show to watch. Perhaps someone never involved in showjumping comes, watches, has a lovely day out and wants to become involved. That’s the way to go, but it needs to be done properly.

I can’t talk about a solution without mentioning the point system for the ranking list. Here, we also need to rethink. Points should reward merit and reflect what has been done. We have to earn ranking points for the right type of competition, not just lots of competitions – or at events open only to a few, but with lots of ranking classes during one weekend.

To illustrate: A rider who wins a two-star Grand Prix with 80 riders – that goes over one round and a jump-off and that you perhaps also had to qualify in for – gets the same amount of points as a person who wins a 1.45m accumulator somewhere else, perhaps with thirty riders and eight jumps in it. Simply because the prize money is the same and that dictates the ranking points for the class.

Recently, at a show I won’t mention by name, there were twelve riders in a 1.45m ranking class and they earned points after schooling around with faults – how can that be?

I also believe we must put more emphasis on the Championships and the Nations Cups as well as the bigger Grand Prix classes. We must make sure we reward the correct thing.

I don’t believe it is possible for any up-and-coming young rider without a huge sponsor at their back to make it into the Top 100 of our sport anymore. The world number one will earn more money and ranking points in one weekend than any young rider would during an entire year competing at two-star level. And when consistently hard work can’t bring you to the top of the sport anymore, it’s time to realize that something has to change!!"

 


Tim Stockdale has represented Great Britain on over 50 occasions in Nations Cups, competed at the 2002 World Equestrian Games, the 2008 Olympic Games, the 2009 European Championships and is one of the best known faces in British showjumping. To learn more about Tim, visit www.timstockdale.com.


 

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