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François Mathy Jr on the Longines Ranking: “Our main objective has been to create a fair and transparent ranking system”

Wednesday, 09 June 2021
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.
World of Showjumping asked International Jumping Riders Club’s (IJRC) board member François Mathy Jr, also a member of the FEI’s Longines Ranking Working Group, to explain the world ranking system. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

For the majority of the riders, the Longines Ranking plays a crucial role when it comes to access to international shows. The world ranking goes hand-in-hand with the FEI’s CSI invitation system, that regulates which riders get to compete at which shows. The higher the rank, the more likely it is that the rider gets to compete at the five-star shows – which is where the big world ranking points can be earned.

The formula for the world ranking is quite simple: Riders are rewarded from a point scale divided into groups – AA to G – which depend solely on the amount of prize money in the class. Only a rider’s thirty best results can count for the ranking – and in a normal situation, only the thirty best results from the last twelve months. However, with the Covid-19 policy that the ranking has been operating under since the end of March last year, each ranking has been prolonged with one extra month and no riders dropped points as they normally would have. From June 1, the ranking has entered a defreezing phase with the aim to be back to the normal 12-month cycle by December this year.

World of Showjumping asked International Jumping Riders Club’s (IJRC) board member François Mathy Jr, also a member of the FEI’s Longines Ranking Working Group, to explain more about the philosophy behind the world ranking.

The evolution of the ranking

“The ranking has been in evolution for a long period of time,” François tells. “At the beginning, the ranking formula was owned by BCM – an event organising company. They managed the ranking in their own way, and it was quite confusing as no one knew which points they would get – you only found out after the competition. It was not transparent, and it was difficult to understand the system.”

“The ranking has a big impact on the riders, and on how the riders manage their horses. This is why the IJRC wanted to take control over the ranking rather than leaving it with an event organiser, that might not have the same interests in mind,” François explains. “Together with the FEI, the IJRC thought it would be important to take control. Today, the IJRC owns the rights to the ranking formula and has a co-operation agreement with the FEI on the management of the ranking.”

 


The ranking has a big impact on the riders, and on how the riders manage their horses.


 

“Our first goal was to make the ranking system transparent; going to an event, riders should know which points they will be able to earn. Finding a method for the points was not easy though; there have been many discussions and studies to get to where we are today,” François says. “Today, the point groups we have – from AA being the highest to G being the lowest – are solely based on prize money. Mainly, our thought was that with the biggest prize money you also have the best riders and horses present – at the end it is quite a fair system. We would like to add some qualitative criteria though, which is something that has been discussed for a number of years. However, we have not found a solution as it is hard to be objective. There have been suggestions that some famous, historical shows – like Aachen or Spruce Meadows– should probably reward the riders with more points. But as I said, it is a delicate matter.”

“In earlier days, the shows were structured in a way that most of the prize money on offer was in the Grand Prix. The points that were earned, were in the main competitions: The Grand Prix and the Nations Cup. Those were the only classes that had prize money enough to provide the riders with ranking points – it was simple,” François tells. “However, as always, the events adapted to the system: The organisers realized how important the points were to the riders, and that is how we started to see more and more ranking classes at different events. It seems to have turned into a race about the number of ranking classes per event.”

Fair and even

“Throughout the evolution of the ranking, the IJRC has tried to find a way to make it fair and even,” François explains further. “When more and more higher-level shows started to offer ranking classes – in addition to the Grand Prix or the Nations Cups – we saw that it caused problems for the riders who had no access to the bigger events. We felt that even if you were a good young rider with access to three-star shows, you had no chance to catch up with the five-star riders who had four to five ranking classes each weekend. Some riders were also earning a lot of points in different classes but were for example not competitive in Grand Prixs or championships – however, they could still be high on the ranking.”

 


Throughout the evolution of the ranking, the IJRC has tried to find a way to make it fair and even.


 

“Therefore, we decided to limit the number of results counting for the ranking to the thirty best over a 12-month period,” François tells. “Limiting the number of counting results was a big cut; at a certain point in time, some of the top riders in the ranking had nearly 180 results counting. With only the thirty best results counting, you automatically keep the highest points – meaning the results from the most important classes from the biggest competitions  such as Grand Prix classes, Nations Cups, etc. For the IJRC, it was the bottom line for the ranking, that those important competitions should count. Limiting the number of counting results gives a chance for those who don’t go to five-star events every weekend to move up on the ranking. I believe an important move from the IJRC’s side was to make the ranking accessible and fair for all riders.”

“Because only the thirty best results over a 12-month period count, the ranking normally moves all through the year,” François says. “In order to move up on the ranking, you need to do better than during that period of time the year before. However, because the counting period in normal circumstances is 12 months, you kind of have a reserve box of points: If you manage to gather a lot of good results, some points that maybe did not count in May, can count later on. Having only the thirty best results counting moderates the ranking.”

Anchoring the invitation system to the ranking

“The IJRC has always been supporting the Nations Cup, mainly because those are the only events where the riders get selected by their national federations. You cannot buy your way in,” François says. “For riders who are not high enough on the ranking and don’t have access to the Global Champions Tour, the Global Champions League or other selective five-star shows, the Nations Cups are a chance to move up. As in all sports, access to events should be based on meritocracy. The ranking has to work well everywhere in the world, but of course the system is not perfect. We have to accept that there are places where it is going to be harder to earn points. However, we try to give an even chance to everyone.”

“Meritocracy should be the only way to access any sport: If I want to go to Wimbledon, I cannot just enter because I am a millionaire,” François says. “With the combination of the FEI’s CSI invitation system and the world ranking, we have tried to solve the problem of pay cards. However, I think we cannot condemn the system completely: We always want the events to improve – and the money has to come from somewhere. For the organisers, pay cards have been important. If a rider has a good sponsor and the sponsor wants to support an event, it should not be forbidden – but it should be controlled. The main objective of an event should not be solely earning money, but having the best riders present for the best sport. It has been a struggle to find a system that allows the events to survive financially, yet have the right riders at each show.”

 


It’s not until more recent times that the ranking has had such a huge impact.


 

“It’s not until more recent times that the ranking has had such a huge impact. Before, invitations came from organisers or national federations,” François continues. “However, with the current CSI invitation system, the ranking has become very important. With the invitation system, most of the riders get an invitation to an event based on their position on the ranking – while there is also a quota for the organisers and the home riders as well as a few FEI wild cards. The different quotas depend on the star-level of the show. For the riders who want to jump at the bigger shows, it is therefore quite important to be high up on the ranking.”

“We have discussed the option of a ranking for horse-and-rider combinations,” François says. “Obviously, for riders with more horses, it is easier to get to more shows and earn more points. However, we believe that a combination ranking is not good for the welfare of the horse. If you see how obsessed some riders are with the ranking, it could lead to them feeling inclined to do more and more with one horse. Mainly we did not support the combination ranking, because in order to move up, a rider would need to use the same horse and there could be a risk of having the ranking system encourage that. No one wants to have a system like that. Also, riders with multiple Grand Prix horses should not be penalized – they are probably doing something right.”

Freezing the ranking

The Covid-19 pandemic forced the IJRC to adapt the ranking to an unprecedented situation. “With Covid, we needed to find a solution,” François says. “Even though it has been a global pandemic, it did not affect all continents the same. First, we decided to freeze the ranking – at that time we did not know how long this problem would last. As we saw that some shows were still running on the different continents, we had to find a compromise in order to reward the results of those who were able to compete but at the same time not punish the ones who were not able to do so."

 


We had to find a compromise in order to reward the results of those who were able to compete but at the same time not punish the ones who were not able to do so.


 

"Freezing the system as we have done means that no one has lost points during this period of time: Points earned during Covid-19 have come into account, and it is still the thirty best results count, but for each month of the pandemic the ranking has been prolonged with one month. Big changes on the ranking during this period were not very likely, but if we had done nothing, some riders would have lost all their points and some not,” François explains. 

Defreezing the ranking

The Longines Ranking Working Group recommended to begin the defreezing of the world ranking as of 1 June 2021. The working group suggested to decrease the time period of points remaining valid by two additional months at each new calculation of the ranking. This way, it will take seven months to get back to the normal 12-month cycle – a recommendation that the FEI Board has approved.

 


There were not many ways to solve it from the technical point of view.


 

“We currently have 14 extra months added to the ranking since the start of the pandemic,” François explains. “There were not many ways to solve it from the technical point of view: We chose the moderate way which should take seven months. We looked at all different continents and simulations were made on how it would work. Again, we tried to find the most fair solution possible.”

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping



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