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The FEI Sports Forum 2022: Focus on Olympic jumping regulations for Paris

Monday, 25 April 2022
FEI Sports Forum 2022

The 2022-edition of the FEI Sports Forum kicked off in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday morning and one of the sessions was dedicated to the Olympic jumping regulations for Paris 2024. Among the topics addressed were timelines for entries, the competition schedule, the substitution process, the order of the competitions, the format of the first individual competition, Minimum Eligibility Requirements, as well as the possibility of introducing a maximum number of penalties during one round.

In Lausanne to present the topics were Stephan Ellenbruch, Chair of the FEI Jumping Committee, Marco Fusté, FEI Jumping Director, Henrik Ankarcrona, member of the FEI Jumping Committee, Santiago Varela, course designer at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, as well as Kevin Staut, president of the International Jumping Riders Club. 

Prior to the Sports Forum, the topics on the agenda for this session had been subject to an online survey and had also been discussed during an online consultation process with numerous stakeholders. “We identified some topics we would like to present to you here during this session. The proposals that will be included here are proposals coming from these consultation sessions, and also from the Jumping Committee,” Ellenbruch said. “These are proposals, there are no decisions so far – we want to discuss this with you,” Ellenbruch pointed out. “We would like to take everything on board that we hear here and then evaluate things.” 

The FEI's consultation roadmap following the Sports Forum includes several important dates: A first draft on the revised rules will be ready on July 6, and by August 24 stakeholders have to give their feedback to the FEI. By October 14, the FEI will propose their final draft ahead of their General Assembly on November 12-13.

Back to teams first

As to the order of the jumping competitions, Ellenbruch explained that the Jumping Committee will propose that the team competition will be jumped before the individual competition at the 2024 Games – reversing back to the structure that was used before the Olympics in Tokyo. “The proposal will be to run the team competition before the individual competition,” Ellenbruch said – referring to the wide consensus in the jumping community on this topic. 

“In my view, it will be easier to manage technically with the team competition first because the team pressure makes the job for you and that means that you don’t need to put all the pressure the first day,” Varela said when asked to look at the proposal from a course designer’s point of view. “The requirements that you need to do for the individuals need to be done later, because they are playing alone and they don’t have the pressure from the team competition – that always makes the job for you, it’s very clear. You can be more progressive to arrive at the individual final, that at the end of the day is the biggest class that you build during four years.”

The proposal will be to run the team competition before the individual competition

Another proposal for the Olympics in Paris is that the individual qualifier should be judged on penalties and time. “As people will remember, in Tokyo it was just on penalties – so in the end, I guess we had 28 equal first and then a few others,” Ellenbruch said. “First of all, nobody understands that you have a qualifier where you have 25 winners, and the other reason is – that we have pointed out with the rule revision – that we think that the time allowed and everything that is linked to it, should play a more important role and we also want to bring that in for the Olympic Games,” Ellenbruch pointed out. “It is just a minor change, but we will then have a very clear ranking for all the riders who have finished, and we will have a very clear decision on who is qualified for the final and that would make life for everybody easier. As it was consensus in all the discussions we had, I would not expect too many comments or questions on that.” 

During the session, Ellenbruch also presented the proposed competition schedule for the jumping at the Paris Olympics – which currently looks as follows: 

Day 1: First horse inspection mandatory for all team/individual horses

Day 2: Horse re-inspection and training session

Day 3: Team qualifier

Day 4: Team final

Day 5: Second horse inspection open to all horses

Day 6: Horse re-inspection and training session

Day 7: Individual qualifier

Day 8: Individual final

The Minimum Eligibility Requirements

The Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs) that riders have to meet in order to compete at the Olympics have been the subject of discussions on many occasions, and especially after the Tokyo Games. “We have to find a way to keep things in a balance. We understand that some people say we have to increase it and put the bar higher, on the other hand we also have to per-say not exclude bigger parts of the community. We have to find a balance which is good for the sport, to have the right people at the Games, without closing the door completely,” Ellenbruch said. 

The proposal for Paris as presented at the Sports Forum is that the MERs should be obtained under the following conditions: 

  • Height of MER competitions: 1.55m or 1.60m
  • Number of MER results required: 3
  • Maximum number of penalties: 4 at 1.55m, 8 at 1.60m 

“The view of the IJRC, but also my personal view as a rider, is that I think when you go to the Olympics, as a rider there are two topics you have to really care about: Horse welfare and high-quality sport,” Staut commented on the proposal. “What we saw at the last Olympics were some bad images, most of them coming from combinations which were not allowed to jump these technical and high courses. For sure, the MER is really important to pull up the level of rounds you have to be able to jump to go to the Olympics.”

“This year, you are allowed as a 3* organiser to put on a 1.55m Grand Prix, so this means that in a few parts of the world where you don’t have 4* or 5*, you can put a Grand Prix that makes sense for your competitors to qualify for the Olympics,” Staut continued. “So, I fully support, and I think the IJRC as well, that we stay on 1.55 and 1.60 level, and to have three rounds with max. one down in a 1.55 and max. two down in a 1.60 – it will, I think, make it safer for our horses to go to the Olympics, and to see high-quality sport and to make the people aware of the difficulty of the Olympics before going there.”

There is at least one principle we want to keep: We want to have a certain consistency in the performances of riders and horses

“We decided to take the star level of the shows out – not to say all the 3*, 4* and 5* shows – exactly for the reason Kevin just mentioned,” Ellenbruch said. “With the 2022 rules it is possible to have 3* Grand Prix classes not only at 1.50m, but at 1.55m or at 1.60m. So, every country which is now organising a 3* show can in principle now take care that this show will be considered for MERs,” Ellenbruch explained. “There is at least one principle we want to keep: We want to have a certain consistency in the performances of riders and horses, that’s why we want a minimum of three [rounds] and we are happy to accept some penalties, instead of saying ‘oh, you jumped one clear round at a 5*’ – and with this you have it. This consistency aspect is really important for us, there has to be at least three [rounds].”

Linked to upping the level, Ellenbruch also introduced a proposal to increase the number of FEI Wild Cards per event for the purpose of helping riders achieving their MERs. “We see that there are differences between the parts of the world that do not have the same easiness to qualify riders in 4* and 5* shows. That’s why we at the moment are studying the number of wild cards necessary in 4* and 5* shows. We have one wild card at the moment at 5* shows, and two at 4*, and we are thinking to increase it to three during the Olympic period,” Fuste said. “We are finalising the simulations to see how many wild cards we need in reality to accommodate everybody at that level, and also again – how many wild cards we could have in Europe to allocate for everybody who needs one MER. We believe that there are countries and continents in the world that would have no problem achieving the MERs, there is enough competitions, but there are others that cannot do it and we will try to give a clear path and an equal path for everybody to qualify and obtain the MERs for the Olympic Games.”

Furthermore, Ellenbruch introduced a proposal to drop the special MER qualifying competitions that have been widely criticised in the showjumping community. “You will remember in the past, that we had these special competitions – they happened in the middle of the week somewhere, or at the end of the show, or on Monday morning, or whatever it was,” Ellenbruch said. “We had to do that last year, especially because of the pandemic and other reasons, let’s hope for the best that we do not have to go to that scenario again where we have to reconsider, but in principle we are supporting the idea that a rider that wants an MER should do that 100% under competition conditions.”

In principle we are supporting the idea that a rider that wants an MER should do that 100% under competition conditions

“Whatever we do on Mondays, or behind closed doors, first of all we can never really guarantee that these are exactly the conditions, and we want to avoid these rumours – every time we have this, we get phone calls the day after ‘have you heard, they used this and those cups’ and so on, which is not fair because in most, if not in all, of these cases where we did these MERs competitions, the conditions were ok – but still it’s not accepted by the community. So, for that reason we want to take these special MER qualifying competitions out,” Ellenbruch said. 

“Just for clarification: I do not talk about special events we have to qualify teams for the Olympic Games,” Ellenbruch pointed out. “That is a completely different thing, this is a normal show with the technical delegate and a course designer and everything really 100% under these rules, where a team qualifies. And the reason for that is that we simply can’t find places where all these teams could come together so we have to find a place elsewhere and do that with a special event. This is what we will do if necessary, in the future, what we will not do are these special things in addition, and I guess you all know what I am talking about.” 

“For the avoidance of any doubt, the special MER qualifying competitions are previewed in annex 8 of the rules and we are going to provide a rule modification, so this specific point comes out of the rules by the General Assembly this year,” Fuste filled in. 

A maximum number of penalties is not a solution

Ellenbruch also gave an update on the FEI Jumping Committee’s opinion on the idea of introducing a maximum number of penalties during a round. “The proposal was about defining the maximum number of penalties a rider could gain during a round, and after that the rider can’t increase the result, so let’s say we go for 16, that is then the worst-case scenario for the riders,” Ellenbruch said. “The idea was to bring it in for the team competition, to have a certain result for a rider to avoid eliminations and all these things. We really spend a lot of time having a look at that, if this proposal would really solve the problem and serve for the purpose it was meant to be. We came to the conclusion, having looked at all the results from Tokyo, that this would not really have solved the problem, because first of all, and I just remind you, I know that you know it, but I remind you again: The elimination of one of the team riders is not automatically the elimination of the team. So, there is not really a need to put something in to save teams. The procedure we have, we did not use that in Tokyo, because we did not have that situation, but the situation is: If one rider is eliminated, you still count the two results you have, the teams with only two results are just ranked after teams with three results. So, a team is not automatically out. Now, you might say, I am not winning a gold medal with that. Most likely not. However, depending on the results of other teams in the qualifier; if there are several teams which have only two results then you go with the two results to find out who are the ten teams to come back for the final. As in the final you start from scratch, you still have any chance to win a medal.” 

What we want, is to work on rules where the ground jury has the chance really to stop a rider

“The other thing was horse welfare,” Ellenbruch continued. “If you really take a look at the pictures in Tokyo – and yes there were a few we did not really like – you would not have solved any problem with this rule. Because there were pictures from horses who did not have penalties, and still we had the feeling they shouldn’t be there. So, you can’t solve that. At the end of the day, and I know that there are people who are not really satisfied with that because the other argument was a little bit that we have to take away pressure from the riders. I understand that, not from my own experience, but I do understand that a rider is under pressure, but I guess we have to accept, and we live with the idea that we all have to take over responsibility in this sport. And like it or not, if there is a situation where the rider feels that it is not the day for himself and the horse, it is the rider’s decision and the rider’s responsibility. What we want to introduce, because that is approaching the same problem from another side, what we want, is to work on rules where the ground jury has the chance really to stop a rider – to make that absolutely waterproof under which conditions and in what situations it is really the point where the ground jury takes over maybe then the responsibility of the rider. But we do not see that it is per-say a solution to agree on a maximum number of penalties, because what number of penalties do you want to take, we had everything from 12 to 20, what is the right number? What do we do with time penalties? So, we as the Committee simply do not see that this is the solution to solve that issue.” 

The Sports Forum continues tomorrow, and topics include FEI Event Standards as well as an update on the International Grooms Association. For the full program click here. 

To watch the live-stream from the Sports Forum, click here. 

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