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IJOC president Glenn Maes: “It’s only together that we can safeguard the future of our sport”

Tuesday, 08 March 2022
Interview

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ
Glenn Maes, president of the International Jumping Officials Club. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

World of Showjumping spoke with Glenn Maes, the newly elected president of the International Jumping Officials Club (IJOC), about the future of the sport and the role of the officials.

The 50-year-old Belgian comes from a family with equestrian traditions and started riding as a child. “The whole family was and is a real horse family,” Glenn explains. “That is how I got into the sport; from a family background. However, as a rider I was not so talented – and also fell a few times – so I stopped riding. However, I still wanted to stay involved in the sport, so I helped in organizing events and step by step, got into the jury box. First, I started as a speaker, then helped with the time keeping… That is how I got into the official’s world, and it evolved from there. I have been an official for 30 years now, starting at the lower-level regional shows, then Belgian national level and onto international shows. Now, I am a level three international judge.”

In January 2022, Glenn was elected as the new president of the IJOC. “The IJOC was founded years ago, and it gathers all FEI jumping officials, and therefore also has a social role because we bring people together – currently virtually but also in person when there is no Covid-19,” Glenn tells. “Our main target is to make sure that we as a community get better at what we are doing, and that we all share the same passion for the sport. We have to make sure that we get more and more professionals involved, because our sport is becoming more and more professional – but also to protect the horse welfare, which is crucial for the future of our sport. These are aspects we as a club are working on. Of course, we try to co-operate closely with FEI, athletes, organizers, and other stakeholders in the sport – because it’s only together that we can safeguard the future of our sport.”

Prevention over punishment

“We as officials are there to serve and enable the sport as well as making sure we have a fair and level playing field,” Glenn says about the role of the officials. “We are there to balance the needs of all aspects of our sport and ensure we have an honest and correct result. A very important aspect is horse welfare. In my opinion, all riders are very passionate about the sport, and together with their grooms they take very good care of their horses. However, we have to make sure that the third part –  the external part that is watching our sport, sometimes without any in-depth knowledge, understands what is happening and that we give a good impression of our sport. We should be objective in our judgements and make sure we get good sport, but also give a good image of it at the same time.”

“Within our sport, we have to be aware that there are people who don’t see the logic of us sitting on our horses,” Glenn highlights. “We have to explain and show them that our sport is about the connection between the horse and the rider, and that the horse and rider work together. Our sport is not us misusing, or abusing, these animals; we are living together with them and taking care of them, we are partners in this sport. To protect the future of the sport, we have to make this clear to the outside world.”

“I think we have enough tools to intervene,” Glenn continues about the role of the officials. “The rules provide us with possibilities to intervene in exceptional cases and there are sanction systems in place. However, I always try to convince people to act proactively. We should not be there to intervene and react, but rather to prevent and avoid cases from happening. We have to be on the spot as soon as possible and react early on in the process, it is always better.”

Common sense and horsemanship

“It is a document and a mindset that is evolving year by year,” Glenn says when asked about the FEI Jumping Rules and their annual updates. “We have to make sure that the rules are there to clearly establish in black and white what is allowed and what is not. However, it is also an important role of the officials to sometimes find the correct shade of grey in between – because the sport is not always black and white. That is why we have to make sure across regions and across the world, that we give good education and training as well as experience to all officials, so they can learn to interpret the rules in a correct way. Personally, I believe that the most important rule to keep in mind is that we cannot write every single detail of the sport on paper and we should not. Instead, we have to make sure we make good interpretations of any given situation. That is also an important role of the IJOC; we are doing cross trainings and sharing experiences, and this way, we can educate better officials.”

“This year, we see that the rule change in Table A competitions, where you now get one time-penalty per each second over the time allowed, has had a huge impact on results,” Glenn points out. “At many shows, where riders in the past would leave the ring with 12 faults, they now add up to 28 faults… We have a high number of penalties in the lower classes this way and that is something to consider for the future. Another issue has been the evolving rules regarding hind boots; there are some new definitions that have been made, which are making the rules a bit stricter, but on the other hand, the vet wraps are allowed again. There has been a big evolution on the process around the hind boots, which I think is a good thing.”

“I think article one and two in the rule book should be common sense and horsemanship,” Glenn continues. “I have been training many national officials in Belgium and that is the first thing we talk about: I urge them to never ever lose common sense. It will help in navigating the grey area that we sometimes have to work with. We have to understand that people also need to grow in a role of an official: It is not always easy to interpret the rules, there are many things that can happen at a show and finding the correct answers can be challenging. A strong equestrian background is always an advantage for an official; it is an important aspect and something we really emphasize.”

Objective evaluation

Currently, FEI events invite officials to work at their events while the FEI only appoints a small number of them. “We see that the FEI is appointing foreign judges and foreign stewards for more and more events,” Glenn says. “It is not only an evolution in a way of thinking, it is also a big workload and certainly in the times of Covid it has been a huge administrative effort. However, I believe that we really need to move in that direction: We need to think about a rotation system and a more structured approach and find a combination of invitations and appointments. By appointing officials, the FEI can make sure that there is an objective evaluation of working with the organizers and athletes. Also, we as officials should try to avoid direct relationships with organizers. On the other hand, we have to keep the organizers' point of view in mind: Naturally, it is interesting for the OC if they can reduce travel and accommodation costs by inviting officials that live close by. I believe it is all about finding a balance between appointments and invitations.”

“While remuneration is a direct way of rewarding the officials, I personally think that there is more to it: Rewarding with respect,” Glenn concludes. “Mutual respect in between the OC, the athletes and the officials is crucial, because we all share same passion for our sport and we have to understand each-others’ roles much better. This is important. We cannot change the world in one day, but by working on the different aspects like rewarding, connecting people and educating them, we can make a difference. Those are important aspects that I want to work on within the IJOC and get improvement in place during the coming years.” 

 

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