The team competition at the Olympic Games in Rio has illustrated that it would be a mistake to change its format as suggested from the FEI. The change, as proposed by the FEI Bureau following the FEI Sport Forum in April, would mean taking the number of riders per team down from four to three – no longer involving a drop score.
Had this year's Olympic team competition played out under such a format, some very strong teams would have been lost on the way. Here are three examples: A US team with three riders that would have included Beezie Madden and Cortes ‘C’ would have been unable to participate in Wednesday’s final when it was discovered that the horse had sustained an injury. Secondly, a host team of three riders that would have included Stephan de Freitas Barcha would not have been able to come to start following the Ground Jury’s disqualification of the rider after Tuesday’s first round. Neither reigning World and European Champions Netherlands would have been able to compete in the final if a three-rider-line up on their side had included Jur Vrieling and Zirocco Blue. After suffering eliminations in both of the two first rounds, Vrieling called it quits to rather try and regain the trust of his horse.
Hence, a change in the format as suggested from the FEI Bureau would make any team extremely vulnerable as the turn-of-events in Rio clearly have illustrated over the last days. Implementing a three-rider-format, with no drop score to count on, would in our opinion make showjumping less a sport and more a circumstantial affair.
We would even argue that such a suggested format would put the horses under even more pressure than is already the case. One could certainly imagine situations arising where the welfare of the horse could be in danger of being jeopardized because the alternative to withdrawing a horse from a team, is having no team – and no medal chances – at all.
At the end of the day, the suggested format change would also make our sport much less exciting. The drop score is what keeps the tension until the last rider enters the ring. Tuesday and Wednesday’s rounds of competition also illustrated exactly this: Even when the gold was settled the competition remained exciting down to the jump-off for the bronze, in large in thanks to the drop score. Taking that away is just a very bad idea.
There must be better ways to make our sport more attractive than to change the team format as suggested. “A lot of the public don’t know anything about equestrian sport,” said Olympic Press Committee member Alan Abrahamson at the FEI Sports Forum earlier this year when speaking about how showjumping is facing a reality check. Then why not focus on how the sport – as it is – can be made more attractive for the general public, rather than to change a corner stone of its' team competitions.
For those not at all that familiar with showjumping, there is certainly room for improvement when it comes to the way the sport is being presented both live to the spectators as well as on television. Graphics and illustrations to help emphasize the eventualities of the competition – ‘This will happen if..’ and ‘This will happen if not..’ – would make it easier to follow and more understandable for those that do not know the sport, and also make it possible to visualize the nerve that actually is very much present. But, when speakers and commentators do not know themselves what different possible outcomes there could be, it also makes our sport a lot less attractive to follow as a viewer.
Perhaps a dedicated service center for speakers and commentators ahead of championships and major competitions would help. Not to forget, that a proper result delivery counting together individual and team scores per round and overall – both live and final – certainly would be much appreciated by those working in the industry. The pen and paper days are long gone, but still very much needed at major showjumping events.
For the spectators it does not help that the rules are so hard to understand, that even a seasoned lawyer gets confused. One example is the disqualifications. Just to illustrate: Nicola Philippaerts is disqualified after Sunday’s first individual qualifier. The same happens to Jur Vrieling. Philippaerts is not let back in the competition, Vrieling is. Because Philippaerts is an individual, and Vrieling a part of a team – and the first competition day does not count for the team, but only decides the order to go for the first round of team competition. In Tuesday’s first round of the team competition (also the 2nd individual qualifier), Brazilian team member Stephan de Freitas Barcha is disqualified as well. He is not let into Wednesday’s second and final round (also the 3rd qualifier individually), because he was disqualified the day before in round one of the team competition. Who understands the logic in that? Should not a disqualification be a disqualification, no matter what stage of the competition it comes at? For those looking from the outside and into our sport, rules such as these must come across as confusing. The fact that no less than three riders from each nation can compete in the individual final – although qualified based on the scores (as for example was Janika Sprunger’s case) – is another rule that has little logic, and makes jumping less about sport and more about circumstances.
Making less complicated rules, and helping those involved in the sport – that know it so well and actually love it – to do the best possible job to bring it out to the masses might be a far better place to start than to change the sport at its very core. Because that would even make enthusiasts like us love it a little less.
If the FEI wants more passion for our sport, and not less, there must be other ways to go than taking a final farewell with the drop score.
Text © World of Showjumping // Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson
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