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The Backstage Pass: Frederik De Backer – “I am madly in love with the sport”

Tuesday, 21 January 2020
The Backstage Pass

Photo © World of Showjumping “With the GCT and GCL I can travel to all these incredible destinations and learn so much," Frederik tells, here with his colleague Steven Wilde. Photo © World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen



In our new series ’The backstage pass’, World of Showjumping goes behind the scenes at some of the biggest events in the sport, with the people who work around the clock to put together a great show.

While you might not recognize Frederik De Backer’s face, you will for sure recognize his voice – at least if you have tuned in to any of the Global Champions live TV coverage. Enthusiastic, and knowledgeable, Frederik has a reputation as one of the best at his job. World of Showjumping sat down with the 37-year-old, and discover a man with a passion for sports.

One man’s misfortune can be another man’s opportunity, and in Frederik’s case that is how his career as a commentator began. “It started at a small riding school in Belgium, close to where I lived,” Frederik recalls. “We had these winter shows every first Friday of the month. I was 15-years-old then, and for us, those events were a huge deal – it was like World Cup shows. It was in an indoor of 20 x 40 meters, and you had to warm up outside in the dark, but for us it was something special. I was always helping out there, and one day the man who normally did the announcing got stuck in traffic – so they asked me to step in,” he smiles.  “Afterwards, they said ‘you know Frederik, that was not too bad – you can do our outdoor show as well’. An opportunity like that was back then a huge deal for me so I put a lot of work into it, did my research about the horses and riders and prepared CDs. After that show, the riding school from the next village asked me for another job. From there on, it just never really stopped – all because one man got stuck in traffic!”

Another coincidence led to Frederik being hired to do the commentating for the Global Champions Tour and Global Champions League’s live streams. “I was already doing the regular commentating in Valkenswaard at the shows there,” Frederik says. “Then in Hamburg in 2008, where I was commentating for, I was walking through the commercial village and I met the GCT crew who I knew from Valkenswaard. When I told them I was there commentating, they said they also needed to find someone. And the next weekend, I was working for the GCT in Turin.”

Listening to Frederik commentating, his passion for the sport is obvious. “I am madly in love with the sport,” Frederik answers when asked where his enthusiasm stems from. “With the GCT and GCL I can travel to all these incredible destinations and learn so much. I was never a good rider, I never rode at a high level, so I am actually really jealous of what these riders on the highest level can do. I would give my leg to be even a fraction a good as for example Scott Brash or Steve Guerdat – I think what they do is fascinating.”

However, Frederik’s interest is not narrowed down to equestrian sports only – in fact, any sport can get his blood flowing. “I am a real sports enthusiast,” he says. “When I go to a football game, and get into the stadium, there is a switch that goes on. I am not a hooligan, but I do lose my temper, really,” he laughs. “And put me in front of the TV to watch curling, and I get excited about curling! Figure skating, darts, whatever – I love sports! And I have a lot of energy!”

Photo © World of Showjumping
“Commentating our sport is actually really technical and I think we can still teach a lot of people around the world what our sport is about – equestrians and non-equestrians," Frederik explains. Photo © World of Showjumping.

The importance of enthusiasm is something Frederik learned about on a family holiday years ago. “We were on a holiday in 1996, during the Olympic Games in Atlanta. I got a heat stroke and had to stay in for a few days. I watched all the Olympic sports and the commentators captivated me,” he remembers. “I did not get the technical parts of the sports, but the commentator’s enthusiasm got me. I think that is the crucial element; enthusiasm and passion. It is not about perfect English, it is not about perfect knowledge, it is about sharing the passion. With everything in our sport it should be about sharing the passion.”

What comes through in his commentating, is the fact that Frederik has wide experience from many aspects of the industry. “I did everything you can imagine,” he explains. “I rode myself, I breed, I do auctions, I have a stable with my girlfriend, I did a bit of trading, I organize events, I am an announcer. I think I have a really wide perspective on the sport.”

When not in a commentator box or in the middle of an auction, Frederik enjoys his time at home in Holland with his girlfriend Anne-Liza Makkinga. But for this energetic 37-year-old the days at home aren’t all that quiet, either… “In addition to our horses, we have a group of sheep, we have three pigs, we have two dogs, and for Christmas I got my girlfriend a starting pack for how to become a beekeeper,” Frederik explains. “There is a lot of activity, a lot of animals! I have a very unstructured life, that is how I am as a person. When the GCT and GCL season is on I am traveling from Wednesday to Sunday, I get home on a Monday and am happy if I still remember where the fridge is,” he answers when asked to describe his usual week. “There is a lot going on at the moment, I don’t have a standard day. There are no holidays, no weekends, there is no structure, no dinners with friends – I am on the road most of the time.”

“I think what I enjoy the most is trying to give people a good time,” Frederik says when we ask him which aspect in his work he enjoys the most. “Whether it is giving the audience a good time here in Mechelen, or people following the GCT & GCL live stream, or at a foal auction. Trying to give people a good feeling and an enjoyable time is what I strive for. And auctions, that is sport for me. Auctions that run three to four hours, I get a kick out of them. To have an honest auction for breeders, buyers and sellers, and pushing myself to stay focused and to have the same passion for each and every horse, all that comes in – auctions are something special for me,” he continues.

“Not becoming competitive, not becoming too technical, trying to find new ways,” he says when we move on to speak about the challenges of the job. “Commentating our sport is actually really technical and I think we can still teach a lot of people around the world what our sport is about – equestrians and non-equestrians. On the other hand, you have to remember to keep in touch with everybody; the professionals and the amateurs. Catering for everybody, that is a difficult thing.”

Photo © World of Showjumping "I don’t have a standard day. There are no holidays, no weekends, there is no structure, no dinners with friends – I am on the road most of the time,” Frederik tells. Photo © World of Showjumping.

About the general challenges equestrian sports are facing, Frederik says: “We have to be careful that the dynamics on the inside of our sport don’t throw mist over how the sport is seen from the outside. There are some fantastic initiatives being taken on different fields, but we have to make sure that we keep showing respect for everybody and come out with one voice. At the moment, it feels like this one voice is lacking. That is a challenge for everybody, you cannot point your finger at one person,” he continues. “If one person comes up with a novelty and it is a hit, it means someone else missed out on it. I believe that the biggest challenge is to come out with one voice. We speak about two hearts, but we should have one voice, so that it stays clear for the general public what equestrian sports are about.”

“For example, I am obviously a great fan of the Global Champions League. The concept is brilliant,” Frederik says. “But what Rolex is doing with the Grand Slam, is also very strong. What Christophe Ameeuw is doing with the Longines Masters is amazing, Stephan Conter puts in his own flavor and taste and I think our World Cups and Nations Cups are also great concepts and still have a strong group of followers. We just have to make sure that we find a level playing field, where everybody can bring out their best,” he continues. “We have such great dynamics, and there are so many creative people. Don’t forget some sports haven’t changed in decades and look at how dynamic showjumping has become in 10 years time. Somehow, we have to try and keep everyone’s identity and find the part that we all have in common – and that is the love for the horses and the passion for the sport. That has to shine through. I don’t have the solution, but it is something that should not be a branding battle.”

When asked about where he sees himself further on in the future, the answer is simple: “I have no idea,” he says. “I always dreamed of being a sports commentator, but I never did real career planning. I hope in some way I can contribute to our sport and bring sport and breeding closer together through our Hippomundo project. I hope in twenty-years-time we can still enjoy it all and that it continues to grow. However, I am a little bit worried about how the outside world sees our sport and I think we need to question ourselves all the time to improve.”

About his personal motivation, Frederik reveals that trying to be a little bit better than the day before is what keeps him going. “And once in a while allowing myself to be a bit worse than the day before. As I’m not a career planner, I don’t have big dreams or huge ambitions. Just one thing stands out, I just want to be a respectable person for the people close to me. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I am not. It motivates me to work on projects, I don’t want to sit on the side lines and complain. I have this rule; you cannot complain about something three times. If you haven’t done something about it after complaining three times, stop complaining.”


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