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Cancellation of the 2021 European Championships in jumping causes discussion: “They have to consult those who get affected”

Thursday, 14 May 2020
European Championships Jumping 2021

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Not everyone agrees with the FEI’s recent decision to call off the 2021 European Championships in jumping. With over one year to go to the championships, a number of chef d’equipes and riders are of the opinion that there would still be plenty of time to work on an alternative plan – while others are more uncertain as to what is realistic. 

Over the next days, we will share some of the opinions on the cancellation of the 2021 European Championships in jumping. In the second part of this series of articles, we speak with Norway’s Geir Gulliksen, Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts, Great Britain's Holly Smith as well as French Chef d’Equipe Thierry Pomel. 

 

Geir Gulliksen – Norway: “It would be very important for us to have the Europeans in 2021”

“Norway has qualified with only one individual spot for the Olympic Games, and since we really need our horse-and-rider combinations to get experience at championship level it would be very important for us to have the Europeans in 2021. 

If the Olympics get cancelled – which is likely – and we end up having two years without championships it will simply be too long. For the development of the sport in smaller countries – such as Norway – it is vital to have the Europeans. To qualify with a team for the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games is difficult, so to attract sponsors and owners the Europeans is a key. It keeps them interested in our sport in a country like mine. We need targets like this to keep the sport growing. I don’t really see that we can’t have a level playing field, like the FEI is arguing is the case – the bigger and stronger countries have enough horses and riders to form more than one good team. 

In my opinion, to make a decision like this now, under these circumstances, is just ridiculous. Instead, we should wait and see how the coronavirus Covid-19 situation develops – we have time enough. I don't think the FEI should have cancelled the Europeans and I am sure 95% of all the riders and national federation will agree on this. It should not be a small group inside the FEI, making these decisions on their own – they have to consult those who get affected." 

 

Olivier Philippaerts – Belgium: “This all depends on which situation each country is in”

“I find myself a bit in the middle here, and I am sure the FEI had its reasons to cancel this early on – whether they were financial or not. 

While there are countries – like Belgium – that have some real depth when it comes to horse-and-rider combinations and could send a team to both the Europeans and the Olympic Games there are on the other hand other nations that will struggle to do the same. For the countries that are not qualified with teams for the Olympics, having the Europeans next year would for sure be of importance. However, not all the European teams that are going to Tokyo will manage to field high-profile teams for both. The European Championships are tough, and you need a proper five-star squad going there – to send a B-team is not an option in my opinion. So, this all depends on which situation each country is in. 

We also have to think about the organisers here, because I don’t think anyone is interested in being second to the Olympic Games when it comes to hosting a championship. 

Personally, I would find it a bit awkward to have two championships of this calibre in the same year. As a rider, you work your way through the summer season towards one championship. I am not sure everyone would be motivated for two, and I am not sure it’s realistic that the Olympics will end up being cancelled – it’s a year away. 

What speaks in favour of having both the Europeans and the Olympics, is that it certainly would cause some much-needed economic stimulation for the industry – in terms of motivating new horse investments. And right now, this would be great for the business that have been brought to a complete standstill for many.”

 

Thierry Pomel – French Chef d’Equipe: “It is not right towards the sport, the riders or the owners”

“In my opinion, this is a sad decision. It is not right towards the sport, the riders or the owners. 

I think it would have been very important to have the European Championships as planned next year. It would have been a great opportunity for new horse-and-rider combinations, especially in the build-up towards the World Equestrian Games in 2022. Only ten European countries get to jump in Tokyo, with three riders on each team, while we would normally see something like 17-18 at the European Championships. It is very unfortunate that so many pairs will be missing out on much-needed experience ahead of a World Championship. 

My opinion is that the strong nations – such as for example Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Netherlands – all have enough depth to field two teams with different horses. For countries like Italy and Spain, as well as the majority of the Eastern European and Nordic nations – the decision if very unfortunate as they are now left without a championship for two years. 

There has been no discussion with the chef d’equipes or the riders before this decision was made, no consultation at all. And as far as I know, the majority of the European chef d’equipes were pro having both the Europeans and the Olympics. 

However, if we act now, I think it would still be possible to find new dates and another venue – for the jumping championships only.”

 

Holly Smith – Great Britain: "I am hopeful that we will hear more from the FEI on this"

“As an athlete, I find it very important to be adaptable and handle any speed bumps along the way accordingly. In the current situation, I try to look at the positives rather than the negatives – as long as we have hope, we keep on training. The hardest part is all the uncertainty we are living with; we don’t know if and we don’t know when. 

While many riders have their eggs in more than one basket and have horse trading and coaching to fall back on to not rely on prize money only – it’s about more than that. The sport is what we thrive for, and also what many horses thrive for. Just like us, they love to show – and for some of them, this break is harder than it is for others. 

With all this uncertainty going on, it feels like we have to ask ourselves if the FEI’s decision to cancel the European Championships was not taken very quickly? If it’s the right decision, I can’t fully understand – I don’t know all the reasons. That is perhaps the biggest problem here – that there is a lack of communication from the FEI’s side to those that are affected. If the information coming from the FEI’s side would have been better, the riders would also not end up feeling as uncertain as we do. As an athlete, I hope we will hear more from the FEI soon; about the Europeans, the cut-off dates for ownership changes and deadlines for minimum eligibility requirements ahead of the Olympics – and a lot more that is currently hanging in the air. After all, this is affecting our livelihoods. 

In Great Britain’s case, I believe we would have the depth to have good teams for both the Europeans and the Olympics. Our Chef d’Equipe Di Lampard has spent the last years developing a lot of new horse-and-rider combinations for the team, and we have many jumping at the highest level of the sport – some with more than one horse capable for championships, and that includes myself. That’s why I hope the FEI will look at this one more time. I absolutely agree with those who ask them to look into the possibilities for new dates and a new venue – for jumping only. 

Championships raise the bar; medals are what we all aim for and what investors and owners put millions into horses for. There is of course still a lot we can target even without any championships, with high-profile events like the Longines Global Champions Tour, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping and other prestigious five-stars. However, there is again the uncertainty that is coming into play – how will the current situation affect investors and sponsors? Will the future look anything like the past few years? We just don’t know, and this is the frustrating part right now. 

Two championships in one year might be a bit to ask, but it would also stimulate the industry as well as the buying and selling of horses – which is needed right now for many. So, let’s look at the positives rather than the negatives. 

I am hopeful that we will hear more from the FEI on this, and that the communication will be bettered.”

 

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