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The WoSJ-team: Medals or money?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Opinions

To jump or not to jump? That seemed to be the question for the individual final at the Longines FEI European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. The line-up for the final had before Saturday’s re-inspection of the horses been changed with big names within the Top 25 – Luciana Diniz (rank 15), Roger-Yves Bost (rank 21) and Kevin Staut (rank 23) – opting to not jump on Sunday. Secondly, between rank 26-32 no one were willing to jump. Replacing the three riders, meant going as far down as rider no. 33, 35 and 36 on the result list after the three first rounds of the championship.

What is the big deal, you might think? Withdrawals as seen in Gothenburg is nothing new, it has happened at several championships before. Everybody knows that jumping a championship is a challenge both physically and mentally for the horses. Riders that are in the zone of not reaching a top placing, prefer to not take the risk and save their equine partners for future tasks. For riders and owners, the road to a championship has an economical aspect – it normally means sacrificing other shows, before and after, and potential income through prize money.

That being said, there was indeed money on offer on the last day at the Europeans in Gothenburg: €420,000 for the twelve best riders overall. Nevertheless, it failed to attract all the 25 best riders to jump. Why?

One reason could perhaps have been a mistake in the FEI approved schedule for the championship week. Just like at previous European Championships, it was printed in the approved schedule that Sunday's final class would offer €420,000 worth of prize money based on “the result of individuals in the third competition only, not on the result of the overall Championship. All competitors starting in the second round receive prize money.” 

However, a rule change had been made already after the Europeans in Aachen back in 2015 so that the prize money on the final day of competition is regulated to be distributed in regard to the overall classification of the championships, providing the rider has taken part in round B of the individual final. The regulation is found in article. 328 in the FEI rules for jumping championships and games. Applying this rule for the individual final in Gothenburg, meant there would be no prize money offered to the riders outside the Top 12 overall.

The head of FEI’s legal department, Mikael Rentsch, told WoSJ that the mistake in the schedule was a human error. “It is unfortunate, that this happened. The Ground Jury has to make sure the schedule is in line with the FEI Jumping Rules and therefore after the mistake was brought into our attention on Saturday afternoon the decision was made and the Chef d’Equipes agreed to this. When it comes to the ranking points – it is clearly stated in the rules that for this final class at a Continental Championship, the riders will be rewarded AA Longines Ranking points, regardless the prize money in the class.”

Henrik von Eckermann, who was competing on home soil, thought long and hard. He opted to jump in the final – even if he with the penalty points he carried did not have a realistic shot at the medals. “I thought about this very long. In the end, I did not want to let the crowds down so I chose to start – the audience came here to support us and they should get their moneys’ worth. Now, you can see that my round was only worth the show,” von Eckermann – who placed 21st in the end – said. 

Steve Guerdat, who jumped the final in Gothenburg and ended up 15th overall, told WoSJ: “You can't blame riders who won't ride the final when it could be ‘one round for absolutely nothing’. Everyone has to take their own situation into account, and do what is best for them and their horse,” Steve commented. “Personally, I did ride because I believed there was a very small chance to do something and improve my ranking and because Bianca still felt so fresh. Money has never been my motivation, especially not in a championship, but still it is unfair not to reward the riders and horses wanting to fight through the whole four days of jumping. Especially, when the FEI President keeps asking riders and owners to give more pride to these events,” Steve said. “What makes it even worse, is that they made a mistake in the official schedule – approved by themselves – and noticed it only few hours before the last competition started. It would have been so easy to find a way to please everybody; they could have taken €100,000 of the overall prize money for the class for example, letting all clears from the first round start in the second and so everybody would have been happy. I am sure that would have been a much nicer picture of our sport than seeing riders withdraw.” 

“I am not 25-years-old anymore,” Roger-Yves Bost commented to WoSJ. “I don’t need the experience. After the last round on Friday, I was planning to jump in the final – I had a great feeling with my horse. But then I looked at it more closely, and even if I prefer the sport over the money, the fact that there was no money in the class at all did affect my decision. The final day’s 1.60m courses are tough: If you are placed 20th, you need that motivation – that you can still get something for a clear round. There are so many shows to come, so I want to protect my horse,” Bosty explained about his decision to withdraw.

John Roche, FEI Jumping Director, went on to explain: “This rule change for the distribution of the prize money was made after the European Championships in Aachen, where many riders withdrew from the second round on the final day. Now it seems we are in a similar situation again, so we need to discuss this issue further,” he said. “The riders are free to withdraw, for whatever reason – that is their right. I don’t think the distribution of the prize money in this class is the reason for the withdrawals we had this time; I believe they chose not to start if they felt they had no chance for a medal. At the end of the day, that is what we are here for; the championship medals and not for prize money. Like all our decisions, also this rule change was made with all the stakeholders being involved and informed so I find it interesting that some riders were not aware of this,” Roche concluded.

Mistake or no mistake, influential or not – what happened in Gothenburg illustrates something that needs to be addressed and hopefully also solved.

The day before the individual final, FEI representatives and riders – present at the International Jumping Riders Club's General Assembly – all discussed the importance of working together to make sure the traditional Nations Cups and championships stay at the top of every rider's agenda.

The question is how? Most riders that World of Showjumping spoke with answered the question with increased prize money.

Other circuits than the FEI’s own, for example the Longines Global Champions Tour, the Longines Masters Grand Slam or the Rolex Grand Slam – have all been good for the sport. These circuits have also brought in a lot of money. Also, more prize money when compared to the FEI events such as Nations Cups, World Cups and Championships. Still, many riders are of the opinion that the FEI shows have some of the best venues in the world – they only need to become more realistic as to the prize money they need to come up with for riders to prioritize their show. Give the best riders the choice where they want to go, one of the riders that World of Showjumping spoke with commented – also pointing out that this is done by putting more money into the Nations Cups and the CSIO Grand Prix classes at the same shows.

Perhaps some would disagree. Looking at the numbers however, it is difficult to avoid the hard facts. The last week of July, there were three five-star shows at the same time. The CSIO5* FEI Nations Cup at Hickstead, the CSI5* Jumping International Dinard and the CSI5* Longines Global Champions Tour in Berlin. At Hickstead the total prize money for the five-star was €493,800. The Nations Cup had €200,000 on offer, with a breakdown of €64,000, €40,000, €32,000, €24,000, €16,000, €11,000, €8,000, €5,000 between the eight teams in the second round – then divided by the riders on each team. The Grand Prix at same event offered €200,000 in prize money. In Dinard, there was a €300,000 Grand Prix and a total prize money for the five-star of €500,000. In Berlin, the Grand Prix was also €300,000 while the total prize money for the five-star was €664,000.

A month later, at the Europeans, €60,000 was on offer in the first round, €210,000 to the teams in the final the third day – with a breakdown between the ten best teams, that again need to split it between the riders – as well as €60,000 to the individuals. After Sunday, the twelve best overall would split the €420,000 with €108,000 to the top ranked rider. After an intense discussion between FEI representatives and Chef d'Equipes about the schedule-issue, an agreement was made for the final class itself as well: The individual final would offer "prizes" to the best 25% of the class. The rider that was the best in the final, jumping the only double clear round over the two 1.60m tracks received a prize in kind for his performance – a watch.

Some might say it is superficial to talk about money in the same context where an athlete is representing his or her country, and where titles and medals should be the biggest motivation. Perhaps it is. At its purest sport should not be about money. But, the sport of jumping is currently in a state where this aspect cannot be discharged. One of the riders that World of Showjumping spoke with, suggested raising the prize fund for the individual final at the Europeans to €1,000,000, distributed to the Top 30 to attract the best ranked riders to jump. As the rider in question pointed out, the sport has moved on – and unfortunately so, some might say.

Failing to understand this, also means failing to face the current state of the sport.

 

-The WoSJ-team-

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