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There is no perfect solution to the world ranking in pandemic times, says IJRC Director Eleonora Ottaviani

Monday, 10 August 2020

Photo © IJRC / F. Petroni IJRC Director Eleonora Ottaviani. Photo © IJRC / F. Petroni.


Text © World of Showjumping



There is no perfect solution to the world ranking-formula in pandemic times, says Eleonora Ottaviani – director of the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC). “No matter what we do right now, it will not be good enough. However, under the current circumstances, I believe that we have found the best solution,” Ottaviani comments to WoSJ on the FEI and IJRC’s decision to keep the world ranking points rolling, despite the limited access riders currently have to international shows. 

A new normal 

It’s difficult times. Weekly, Ottaviani gets phone calls from European riders that struggle. The common denominator is that riders for the past five months have had little income but a lot of running expenses. Horse sales have dropped, and there is almost no prize money to jump for. Currently, the only venue with four- and five-star shows is Hubside Jumping in Grimaud, France. Invitations are limited; fifty riders get to jump – 50-60% of them get invited based on their position on the world ranking, 20-25% get in through the French federation while the remaining 20-25% of the invitations belong to the organising committee. The few other shows in Europe – three- and two-stars – are filled to the brim. At one show, riders had to qualify to jump a CSI3* 1.45m group D ranking class where the total prize money was 25,400 Euro. With entry fees around 400 Euro ex. VAT per horse, there will rarely be a plus when riders make up their bills to leave a show. The new normal is harsh, and unfortunately it looks like it’s here to stay for a while longer.

"No relevant changes"

The financial aspect is something the IJRC had in mind when settling for the current solution for the world ranking. The Longines Ranking Working Group, where the IJRC has three representatives, decided to opt for a policy where the riders can earn but not lose points. As before, only the thirty best results count – however, the timeframe has been extended from twelve months to being prolonged on a monthly basis. “The idea behind the Covid-19 policy for the world ranking is to protect the riders that currently are unable to compete,” Ottaviani says. “In my opinion, there will be no relevant changes on the ranking with this formula. We are however monitoring the situation and will check the ranking list with the FEI IT department in a couple of weeks. At first, we thought we were looking at a period of two months – but now we don’t know what will happen next.”

“Freezing the ranking completely – and not distribute points at all – is not an option,” Ottaviani says. “I believe that without the ranking classes, prize money will drop considerably. This will leave the riders in an even more pressurised financial situation.”

“As the higher ranked riders already will have more than 30 results counting, the policy will have no significant effect on their positions,” Ottaviani says. “In order to earn points, they must have better results – which will be difficult as there are very few big events. The riders at the few four- and five-star shows – which normally would be those ranked from 1 to 35 in the world – will basically only play between them. Take a look at Steve Guerdat for example, his win in the five-star Grand Prix in Grimaud did not change much on his ranking points.”

“The best that we can do”

Swedish rider Henrik von Eckermann, also a member of the Longines Ranking Working Group, supports Ottaviani’s opinions – and shares another perspective on the policy. "Firstly, different countries have been in lockdown at different times and we did not see how it would have been possible to determine a fair timeline on when to freeze points,” von Eckermann says. “Secondly, the ranking and the invitation system go hand in hand – how should we determine the invitations to the five-, four- and three-star shows without the ranking?” 

“In the Top 30, not much is happening at the moment,” von Eckermann replies when asked if the current policy isn’t actually creating an unlevel playing field seeing that not everyone can compete and earn points. “The crucial point to understand is that even within the prolonged timeframe, only the 30 best results count,” he continues, referring to how ranking points are divided in groups – AA, A, B, C, D, E, F and G – based on the height of the classes as well as the amount of prize money. At the moment, the majority of the ranking classes belong to group D – the 1.45 meters with prize money from 25,400 Euro to 51,099 Euro. “In their previous counting results, most of the top ranked riders have points from the higher-ranking groups and therefore they are at the moment most likely not gaining points. Those lower ranked, without 30 counting results, are the ones likely to earn points,” von Eckermann continues. “If you look at the last ranking, there is more movement among the lower ranked riders than higher up.”

Is not the movement itself a problem though, in the sense that competing riders can pass non-competing riders – no matter if ranked high or low – and over time better their position on the world ranking, we ask Ottaviani? “I don’t see that those are relevant climbs,” she replies when presented with a list that illustrates how riders within the Top 300 have jumped as many as 85 spots up during June 2020. “We have to ask ourselves: Under the current circumstances, if a rider climbs from rank 295 to 210, will that change the lives of other riders? In my opinion, we have to compare this to the option of dropping the prize money – because how I see it, that’s the alternative. We have decided it’s better to keep the prize money up and add the ranking points for those who can compete, and make sure the rest can’t lose points,” Ottaviani says. “No matter what we do right now, it will not be good enough – and I believe this is the best that we can do.” 

Advantaged and disadvantaged

One rider that is uncertain about this solution is Norway’s Geir Gulliksen. He is one of many riders world-wide affected by strict national regulations that change on a weekly basis, making it hard to travel far abroad to compete at the few international shows available. “I question whether this is a fair solution. It puts some riders at advantage and others at disadvantage, mostly due to geographical variations,” Gulliksen says. “Time will tell who is right, and if climbs like the ones we have seen in June and July can be considered as irrelevant to the ranking – the very foundation of the invitation rules. Right now, it seems as the pandemic will affect us well into 2021. We need to make sure the policy reflects that. Short-term solutions are not going to be good enough, we have to think ahead.”

Riders currently at advantage include those that compete for nations hosting higher level shows. A selection of home riders will get in through their national federation’s quota, as regulated in the CSI invitation rules. “This situation is a consequence of the invitation rules,” Ottaviani comments. “They have not been constructed for something as extraordinary as a pandemic.”

Have the Longines Ranking Working Group examined all possibilities though, or are there other options? One of the riders WoSJ spoke with suggested to look to tennis and the ATP Tour Ranking, where no player for the remainder of 2020 will have fewer points than on the ranking that was frozen in March. While players can improve their total points [after the Tour’s resumption] with results that are strong enough to be included in their countable best 18 results, only the best result from 2019 or2020 can be used at the same Tour-level event. If a player's 2019 result is better than the 2020 result, only the 2019 result will be included in the ranking breakdown.

While this formula can’t be copy-pasted to be used in jumping, it was pointed out to WoSJ that it is possible to imitate: Points earned in week 35 2019, can be replaced by points earned in week 35 2020 if the amount of points increases. The points from week 35 2019 are then scratched from the 30 best results. If such a calculation is followed, earning points could also potentially have less impact on the ranking list. 

Monitoring the situation

Meanwhile – with an unpredictable pandemic on their hands, Henrik von Eckermann explains that the Longines Ranking Working Group is closely monitoring the situation. "For now, we have a few shows – but the situation is changing from week to week. It is still very unclear what happens with the indoor season, and as we can see show after show is being cancelled. What happens next, no one really knows.”




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