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The launch of the 2017 LGCT/GCL season: “The future is upon us and it’s going to be different”

Wednesday, 15 March 2017
Sport

Photo (c) GCL / Sam Walravens. Photo (c) GCL / Sam Walravens.

These are the words from Frank McCourt – co-owner of the Longines Global Champions Tour and co-founder of the Global Champions League. McCourt’s sentence sums up the hours of long discussion between three mighty men in the world of showjumping as they met the press at the Tops International Arena on Tuesday 14th of March for the launch of the 2017-season of the GCT and GCL. Jan Tops – President and co-owner of the Longines Global Champions Tour and co-founder of the Global Champions League, was joined by his business partner Frank McCourt and FEI President Ingmar de Vos to celebrate the beginning of the 12th season of some of the finest showjumping in the world, but also to address issues regarding the recently FEI approved Global Champions League.

“This year we will have 15 events in the Longines Global Champions Tour,” said Jan Tops about the Tour that this year kicks off in Mexico. “Last year we started with 12 teams in the Global Champions League and we will have 18 teams this year – I think this is fantastic. Our goal has always been to be innovative and exciting – even if the team competition as a whole is nothing new. We already had that 20 years ago in the Riders Tour.”

How the FEI and the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT)/Global Champions League (GCL) were suddenly able to reach an agreement following what has been a long legal battle between the parties raised a few questions. “We should not look too much in the past, but focus on the future,” answered FEI President Ingmar De Vos. “Regarding the process, we were approached by the LGCT/GCL and as the governing body of the equestrian sports we need to listen to our stakeholders. We wanted the LGCT/GCL to respect the rules of the FEI. What is important to understand, is that we all agreed on a few principles: On the demand of respect of the FEI rules, the welfare of the horses and the integrity of the sport. I think you should not see it as one giving way to the other – in the end we had quite a constructive discussion. One point of course was that there cannot be pay cards and the LGCT/GCL agreed to this. Another question was the dress code – we will open a debate at the FEI Sports Forum in April to see if we have to do something in general about the current dress code in the FEI rules,” Ingmar De Vos explained about the process of finding a solution. 

To further address the comments about the transparency of the reached agreement, De Vos said: “The concept of sponsored teams is nothing new, it is allowed and it is recognized in the rules of the FEI. We are the governing body, and our relationships are laid down in Memorandums with many of our partners – this is nothing that we have only done with the LGCT/GCL. These documents are basically confidential because they are agreements between two bodies but there is nothing special about the agreement we have signed with the LGCT/GCL as to any other agreements we have with other partners. There are no secrets and we are always ready to answers questions,” De Vos said.

“I believe it is more about a misunderstanding and a lack of communication. Sometimes it is very difficult to find the right time to communicate with everyone immediately, but we are open and transparent. We have a meeting with the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) and the European Equestrian Federation (EEF) set for the coming weeks to clarify some things. The comments on the democracy of our federation hurt me, because since I arrived at the FEI we have specially engaged in discussion with all our stakeholders. I would say we are in a very special situation compared to many other sport federations; not many have such a platform to engage with their stakeholders as the FEI has,” De Vos concluded on the process.

The question of the risk that the LGCT/GCL perhaps will end up overshadowing FEI’s own Nations Cup series was also addressed. “For me they go hand in hand; I don’t see a problem at all,” Jan Tops commented. “It is a totally different concept as we have only two riders per team. We are open, and have made a special rule so that the Chef d’Equipes are allowed to take riders they need from our events on short notice.”

“We live in a very competitive world and I would like to make it clear that the Nations Cup together with the World Cup are the most important series for the FEI,” continued De Vos. “Promoting them is our first priority. We are facing difficulties with the development of the Nations Cup, as we are still looking for a title sponsor – but I am confident this will happen.”

On the questions about the controversial invitation system for the LGCT and the GCL, Ingmar de Vos answered. “We wanted full compliance with the FEI rules, but to be able to accommodate for teams there had to be some adjustments in the rules. We developed a new invitation system – we have had a very open and transparent communication between the FEI and the LGCT/GCL. I know there are some comments with regard to this system, but I think the FEI has done a lot to improve the invitation system in general in the past years,” De Vos said.

“In the past we have had a system that has been difficult to implement,” De Vos continued. “Three years ago we started to work on the online entry system. More than a year ago we developed an application for the riders to see where they are placed on the list of invitations – and when riders have asked help from the FEI, the FEI Jumping Committee has helped them. On the first of January 2018 we will launch an online invitation system in order to enforce the correct implementation of the invitation system.”

“We understand the concern of the athletes, but I think we have put in a lot of effort. You need to understand that as this is a team competition, there has to be some adjustments in order to be able to put a team together – the same goes for the Nations Cup rules,” De Vos concluded.

The possible harmonizing of the entry fees worldwide was also discussed. “Is it normal that an organizer of a five-star event in Europe cannot ask for an entry fee, but an organizer on the other side of the world can? I believe that in a competitive world where everyone needs to be treated equally, this is a valid question. There is a document, a proposal coming from the Alliance of Jumping Organisers (AJO), where they suggest the harmonizing of the entry fees. This will be discussed at the FEI Sports Forum,” Ingmar De Vos said.

“Our current event evaluation – the star system – is based on prize money only, not on the quality of the services the organizers are offering. Maybe we need to look at that. Maybe we need to think that there should be a fee for every event –  regardless of the star system – that would guarantee a clean, safe environment and veterinary services etc.,” De Vos continued.

De Vos made a point to clarify that the idea of harmonizing the entry fees is not coming from the FEI as a body: “It is not a FEI proposal – it will be discussed at the FEI Sports Forum to open a discussion to show an opinion of one the stakeholders in this case. And they are an important stakeholder: The show organizers. Without them there is no sport, so that is why we have opened the discussion with them,” De Vos said.

Even if mixing traditions with innovation and the American ways with the the European can be challenging, all three men agreed that working together is the only way forward. “The changes in the equestrian sport, in the media landscape and in sports in general – we have to pay attention to what is going on,” Frank McCourt said. “One of the biggest assets that Jan and I have, is that we come from different perspectives. I am a non-equestrian American, Jan has deep knowledge of the equestrian sport and is rooted in Europe. It is the combination of the two that helps us navigate and make good decisions. First of all, I’ve never seen change happen where everyone is happy – it takes time to adjust. We are happy – not necessarily with how we got here, but that we did and that we are together again. Happily, we came to terms and are moving the sport forward. Those who don’t change, risk coming extinct. We want to see our sport surviving and striving.”

With many years of experience and another exciting LGCT/GCL season ahead, Jan Tops concluded: “It has been 12 years now and I can tell you there has always been those who protest. I believe we are doing the best for our sport and our obligation is to raise the standards in every way.”

 


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

 

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