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Déjà vu at IJRC General Assembly 2021 as riders grow increasingly frustrated with FEI over Olympic format

Saturday, 11 December 2021
IJRC General Assembly 2021

Photo © World of Showjumping
On Friday morning, the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) held their 2021 General Assembly in Geneva, where the riders once again voiced their frustration with the FEI and the Olympic format. Photo © World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

On Friday morning, the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) held their 2021 General Assembly in Geneva – and the topic that unsurprisingly dominated the discussions, as it has on so many previous occasions, was the Olympic format. Like Ludger Beerbaum pointed out as he joined via a video call, the General Assembly was in many ways a déja vu experience – with the riders growing increasingly disappointed and frustrated with the FEI, represented in the meeting by FEI Jumping Director Marco Fuste.

IJRC President Kevin Staut opened the General Assembly by addressing his disappointment with the Olympic format and qualification system for 2024, which was approved by a vote at the FEI Hybrid General Assembly last month. “We really thought that we could work together again with the FEI, to show and to explain our strong position on the four riders and the drop-score,” Staut said. “I think especially me as the president, it is difficult to realize how strongly we failed on this.” 

A pretty clear message

Photo © World of Showjumping
Rodrigo Pessoa speaking at the 2021 IJRC General Assembly. Photo © World of Showjumping.

IJRC board member Rodrigo Pessoa went on to question the vote on the Olympic format of three riders per team. One day prior to the voting at the FEI Hybrid General Assembly, the FEI President proposed a separate vote on teams of three or four – next to the Olympic qualification system for 2024, which was on the agenda as a priority for approval. “On the agenda for the FEI General Assembly in Antwerp, it was decided that there was going to be a vote for the qualification system only. The format was going to be discussed next year, during the Sports Forum and during the year. Why, suddenly, during the General Assembly, was there a vote for the format – that showed up from one day to the next?” Pessoa asked FEI Jumping Director Marco Fuste, who replied that this is a question for the FEI Secretary General’s office and the Legal Department. 

 

Rodrigo Pessoa: The number one preoccupation of the FEI should be to represent our sport and the welfare of the horse

 

“I think that the message is pretty clear,” Pessoa continued speaking to Fuste. "The number one preoccupation of the FEI should be to represent our sport and the welfare of the horse. This [Editor’s note: The Olympic format] goes against the welfare of the horse. Our owners, the people that are involved in this, the real people that are involved in this, are telling you that this is the wrong thing to do. Is there too much pride in the FEI to say ‘we tried something, it did not really work, but let’s try to find a better way going forward so our sport can grow and be better, and for the welfare of the horse’,” Pessoa asked. “Because that should be the number one priority of the FEI and that is not the case, because this is just a political move and has nothing to do with the sport. The majority of the people who understand the sport – not the majority of the people that vote, because most of them don’t understand what is going on, they don’t even have horses, they have no riders registered and have the same vote as Germany, USA or France – these are the people who make the sport. If those are telling you that it is wrong, those are the people you should be listening to, especially as a governing body. And that is what is most frustrating for us, is that you are listening to people who don’t understand, who have nothing to do with the sport, and the people who are there day in and day out, you ignore them. And there is nothing wrong in saying we tried something, it didn’t work, let’s try to do something better – with the people who really understand. The frustration that we have is that.” 

Countries without horses making decisions for the sport

Photo © World of Showjumping.
Many had met up for the 2021 IJRC General Assembly. Photo © World of Showjumping.

The current FEI voting system – with one vote for each national federation, regardless of athlete size or the number of horses – was a big part of the discussion in Geneva. Laura Kraut pointed out that the issues with the voting system are nothing new: “If I am not mistaken, I think this has been a topic for quite some time,” she weighed in. “I don’t think this is something new. And if tennis and other sports like that went ahead and made changes for the betterment of their sport, I cannot understand whether it has to come to a vote or whatever amount of work it takes, but we are dealing with the welfare of horses and we are having countries that don’t even have horses making decisions regarding our sport,” she said. “I think it is well worth whatever it takes for the FEI to get this changed,” she continued.

 

Laura Kraut: Our sport is different from any other sport, because we have to take care of our animals

 

“Our sport is different from any other sport, because we have to take care of our animals. I am really disappointed; I feel like the FEI should represent us in the best way they possibly can. Hopefully they are working for the riders as much as they possibly can, and whatever it will take, they should. If tennis can do it and other top sports such as swimming, then why have we not done this?” 

Useless

Photo © World of Showjumping. Eleonora Ottaviani, IJRC Director, addressing the voting results from the FEI Hybrid General Assembly. Photo © World of Showjumping.

IJRC board member Steve Guerdat was also among the riders that yet again voiced his frustration with the FEI. “It is actually absolutely useless what we do, because the situation is that the FEI is always working in the same way: They give us something with the right hand and take back with the left,” he said.

 

Steve Guerdat: You want us, active athletes and federations, to find the best way to work with this system that we are against

 

“Now you [Editor’s note: FEI] are asking us, consulting us, or our national federations, how to do the best out of something that has been decided by federations that know nothing about our sport. And you want us, active athletes and federations, to find the best way to work with this system that we are against. I don’t see myself working on something that I don’t want and that I don’t believe in. I believe the FEI should ask Tobago, Cayman Island, Haiti, Congo, what is the best for our sport since they are the ones deciding on the future of our sport. I believe you don’t need to consult us, but the 70 federations that voted for it. We are useless. As long as the president doesn’t change, or the voting system as Laura said is not changed, everything we are doing is useless, just losing time.” 

A little less politics

Photo © World of Showjumping
Daniel Bluman asked for a little less politics, and a bit more common sense from the FEI. Photo © World of Showjumping.

Daniel Bluman used the opportunity to address how the communication between the FEI and the riders has to be improved. “I have attended a number of these meetings and followed closely the issues around the sport. I strongly believe that there are some very serious, delicate issues that need to be addressed in order to change the dynamics between the FEI and the riders. It just doesn’t feel like we are working together, quite opposite, it feels like we are working against each other," he said.

 

Daniel Bluman: The FEI is using all the mechanisms they have in their position as the governing body, to go against what the riders want

 

"The FEI is using all the mechanisms they have in their position as the governing body, to go against what the riders want – an example of that is the voting system, which is a disgrace, not logical and not democratic by any means – quite opposite. The FEI has contact and power over those small national federations; they lobby towards those national federations, so they support the FEI’s agenda. We as riders don’t have the chance to lobby those small federations, and we don’t have the time. That’s not democracy, that’s anarchy. Seeing an Olympic Champion, former world no. one, and one of the most influential riders of the sport plead to be heard is nothing short of a tragedy. That’s not why we look forward, and that’s not why we signed up for this sport. Like Steve says, it seems like these meetings here, year after year, is just a plain waste of time. Riders and the FEI have to establish better channels for communication, no egos, a little less politics, and more horse sport and common sense.”

Not enough time for a real debate

Photo © World of Showjumping
EEF Vice President George Dimaras pointed out that there has not been enough time to have a real debate about the Olympic format. Photo © World of Showjumping.

EEF Vice President George Dimaras pointed out how the FEI has failed in their promises of an open discussion, and an evaluation of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. “In June, that was a month and a half before the Olympics, the FEI Board approved the qualification system that is now also the qualification system that we are going to follow for the Olympics in Paris,” Dimaras explained. “Which means that the FEI Board already had approved the qualification system as a proposal even before checking what is going to happen in Tokyo. After Tokyo, and we all know what happened in Tokyo, most of you were there – you actually can evaluate things better than anyone else – the EEF Working Jumping Group, which I am honored to chair, we met less than a week later to discuss what happened in Tokyo. Other stakeholders met as well. We all discussed with the FEI, the FEI said we should keep it low, we should discuss it as a family, we are going to have this discussion and we should not go out to the press, we should not have individual discussions here and there because that would not be good for the sport and we all agreed.” 

 

George Dimaras: It is not good for our sport as a sport, it is not good for the horse, and not good for horse welfare

 

“What happened later, in September, the proposal for the qualification system for the Olympic Games 2024, which was identical to the one used in Tokyo, was sent out to the federations,” Dimaras continued. “There was a month for this to be discussed, and for comments to be sent. The EEF met immediately, came up with proposals, but obviously it was not enough time to have this debate,” Dimaras said – pointing out that all that was possible to do at this stage was to make a plea at the FEI Hybrid General Assembly, which was carried out by Steve Guerdat. 

“What is fundamentally wrong about this qualification system, is that it is not a fair, up-to-standard and sport minded qualification system,” Dimaras continued. “It is a system that works good on paper to have a lot of teams and flags in the Olympics, which may be good for our sport in the Olympic movement, but it is not good for our sport as a sport, it is not good for the horse, and not good for horse welfare.” 

IJRC board member Max Kühner addressed how adding more flags to the Olympics can be harmful for the image of equestrian sports. “When we want to push horses and riders to jump competitions that they cannot jump, we harm our sport,” he said. “That is against our sport. Of course, we want to have as many flags as possible, but they still have to manage the biggest courses in the world.”

Press the stop-button

Photo © World of Showjumping
Ludger Beerbaum joined via video, and said 'I cannot stand up for this anymore'. Photo © World of Showjumping.

Ludger Beerbaum, also a IJRC board member, joined the conservation via live stream and said that in 2021, it is finally time to pull the brake. “Sitting here at home, I have a little bit of a déja vu experience from the last 25 years,” Beerbaum said.

 

Ludger Beerbaum: I cannot stand up for this anymore

 

“We all know, we are aware that we have a problem, a serious issue in the current situation we are in. We continue to try and make the best out of it and tell each other ‘we are family, we have to go on’ – but honestly, I am getting to a point with my age and experience, where I cannot stand up for this anymore. If it is not now in the year 2021, a point where we see consequences, that we are noticed, that we are taken seriously, that our concerns are really taken into consideration in the FEI’s politics and philosophies and rules, isn’t it time to really press the stop-button and say ‘listen, what do we have to do to change this’?” 

The IJRC’s own summary from their General Assembly can be read here

Key moments from the 2021 IJRC General Assembly can be watched on the IJRC’s official website

 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping.com

 



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