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Michael Blake: “Are we doing what is best for the development of our sport?”

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"If we are to come out on the other side of this, we need to create opportunities for all our stakeholders,” Michael Blake says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



World of Showjumping speaks with Ireland’s Chef d’Equipe Michael Blake about the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. With a dramatic decrease in four- and five-star shows, no 2020 Nations Cup-series nor an upcoming World Cup-season, there is much uncertainty ahead – and Blake is concerned about the lack of choice for his horses and riders.

“The biggest problem for a Chef d’Equipe are the limited opportunities,” Blake begins. “Forward planning is a big part of the job. When I came into this role in 2019, we were looking at a full season ahead with World Cups, Nations Cups, finals of both, the Olympic Games and the European Championships, all within 18 months. All in all, it was a very busy calendar.”

However, with the Covid-19 pandemic, most of the 2020-calendar has been swept away. “To get ready for the coming Olympics, we are going to struggle a little bit with realistic opportunities,” Blake says.

“This year, Ireland will have competed in six Nation Cups instead of our usual 20 – so numerically, that means we have 24 created Nations Cup opportunities versus our usual 80,” Blake continues. “That gives you an approximate figure of 30% of the number of opportunities we normally provide to people – understandably, this poses challenges. If we are to come out on the other side of this, we need to create opportunities for all our stakeholders.”

“Many events have been cancelled, but there aren’t any less riders looking to compete their horses,” Blake continues to explain about the difficulties faced. “In essence, the opportunities are scarce while the demand has remained the same. This has presented many challenges. The CSI invitation system and the world ranking have made the situation even more complex, as in certain situations it can be difficult for some riders to get into four- and five-star shows, preventing both the riders and horses from gaining essential jumping experience. Many of the shows at present are two- and three-star shows, and now those shows have had huge entries. There can be up to 150 horses in a 1.45m class, which poses huge challenges for organisers, competitors and course builders alike. In the present climate, with the cancellations of many indoor events, there is a much stronger field at the two- and three-star shows, and this makes it ultra-competitive.”

“Many of our Irish riders are based in the US, where it looks like there will be four- and five-star shows this winter,” Blake says. “But we also have riders in Europe, where opportunities are significantly reduced with the cancelation of many four- and five-star shows this winter.”

With the current lack of Nations Cup and World Cup shows – where national federations have more freedom in nominating their riders – Blake is faced with a challenge when it comes to the selection of championship teams. “While there are limited opportunities at the higher star level, it is incredibly important that the proposed 2021 Nations Cup series takes place”, Blake explains. “In order for a transparent selection process to take place, the combinations we have need to be tested – this can’t be done if they can’t get into the shows. The first Nations Cup shows – La Baule, St. Gallen, Sopot and Rotterdam – will be important for anyone looking to select a team for Tokyo. For Ireland, Rotterdam will be a very important show as the venue’s conditions are somewhat similar to Tokyo and the timing of the event is a good fit for us. We need to look at creating ample opportunities so that we have proper selection procedures.”

“What may create a problem is that there will be insufficient CSI five-star shows ahead of the Olympics and there is a barrier created by the CSI invitation system for riders that are lower ranked – but who may still have a horse with championship potential and that needs to be competed at a higher level,” Blake continues to explain. “Under the current system for the CSI four-star and five-star shows, except for the Nations Cups, team managers cannot nominate riders – riders get invited based on the ranking, nominations from the host NF or through an invitation from the organiser. There may be a case for the ranking system to be evaluated. The rankings are historic, based on a rider’s 30 best results with their combination of horses. Maybe one option could be for riders to nominate one or two horses per show for 1.45-1.50m and upwards, to compete for the ranking points. An alternative solution to a change in the ranking system may also be that Chef d’Equipes should have a nomination for shows where their nation is invited. This would give Chef d’Equipes an opportunity to nominate a lower ranked rider with a potential championship horse.”

When it comes to governing our sport in these turbulent times, Blake calls for more dialogue. “There needs to be discussion and there needs to be compromise,” he says. “Our governing bodies must allow our sport to develop, by creating opportunities. The majority of our horses are owned by business people who enjoy the sport, but the investment must also make commercial sense for them. It is imperative to ensure that this investment remains in the sport and that our sport becomes the best fit for all individuals. Therefore, it is important that we have a balanced perspective combining this and a sport that works for everyone.”

“It was heartening to see the rescheduling of the European Championships in jumping and that sport won in the end,” Blake continues. “This would seem to suggest that open and frank discussion is always the best way forward. We totally understand that there has to be governance and sport combined. It is incumbent on everyone to continue to ask themselves: Are we doing what is best for the development of our sport?” 


No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping


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