An Unpopular Opinion

The uproar in the wake of the FEI’s proposed changes to eventing has been swift. However, many resign themselves to the fact that eventing must “change” for the future. It seems people have plenty of ideas about how to change eventing and others have opinions on why not to change eventing, but very few people ask why we are told we need to change eventing in the first place. So, why do so many people feel eventing needs to be changed?

The Olympics.

Amid budgeting nightmares at every new Olympic Games, equestrian sports always get reevaluated. Social relevance? Audience? Cost? Eventing is at the bottom of the pile when compared to even the other equestrian disciplines because it requires much more infrastructure, logistical organization and a significant additional cost without increased revenue. In addition, eventing has famously “failed” at attracting the money and audience that dressage and show jumping can. Again, eventing is expensive and (admit it) the rules are confusing.

But I can’t help but wonder, so what?

Everyone appears to cling to the Olympics as the sole validation of our sport outside of the equestrian community. I know I have explained to strangers that my sport is an Olympic sport in an attempt to convince them of eventing’s importance. But why? At the end of the day, their opinion on the athletic merits of eventing will not decide whether or not I compete.

The real question is, are we willing to compromise the integrity of the sport (again) at the international level in order to allow a handful of riders to represent their country at the Olympics, a single competition every four years? Instead of changing our sport exclusively to keep up with the Olympics, why don’t we let it go? There are many other sports, sports with a global reach, like rugby, cricket, and MMA that are non-Olympic.

I am a young rider. I have entertained the ideas of becoming a pro or at least continuing to progress up the levels. Like many people my age, I have had dreams of getting my own pinque coat. Heck, I even just love watching a championship like the Olympics on my computer. The problem is that as a sport, we are so willing to equivocate. If we keep changing in order to meet outside demand, eventually we will be forced to admit our own irrelevancy. I am increasingly suspicious that this fact will lead to the total demise of international eventing in the next 25 years.

What do we really lose without the Olympics? We still keep CCI4* competitions. We still have the World Equestrian Games. Feasibly, the FEI could create a special international championships to run during the Olympic year. Perhaps an exclusively eventing focused championship (think: FIFA World Cup) could attract more attention to our sport than just being another line item in the Olympic roster.

What do we lose by staying in the Olympics? The entire structure of the FEI competition system, the Olympic format and even our name (again).

Why risk throwing our beloved baby out with the bathwater?