The 2015 FEI Sports Forum took place earlier in the week on April 27-28 in Lausanne, Switzerland, with a number of key topics up for debate. With the future of Olympic equestrian sport hanging in the balance, the logistical dramas of the World Equestrian Games in Normandy and the controversial proposals to overhaul eventing, there was much to discuss.
“We are all here because we care about our sport,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said in his opening address. “We need to be open and honest about the challenges we are facing as a sport, but more than that we need to be proactive and brave enough to consider changes that will address these challenges.”
Lets take a look at some of the key discussion points that took place at the forum over the last two days.
World Equestrian Games
Tim Hadaway, FEI Director of Games and Championships, presented the following statistics to show the sheer size and scope of the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France:
- Participation: Normandy was the biggest WEG in the event’s 25-year history, with 74 nations represented, which is 28 percent more than previous years. Over 25,000 individuals including 900-plus athletes, 3,000 volunteers, 1,750 media and 250 officials were accredited and more than 1,000 horses competed at five venues spread across the Normandy region of France.
- Attendance: 46,300 hotel nights had been booked through the Organizing Committee and 103,500 meals were served to the accredited population. The event had record ticket sales with almost 575,000 tickets sold.
- Media coverage: More than 24,000 media mentions in France, 3,173 hours of global broadcast coverage, a total television audience of 330 million, and 5.5 million views on the FEI YouTube channel during the Games. Social media stats are not provided though the reach was considered successful.
- Economic impact: The total budget for the Games was €79.6 million, with an economic impact in Normandy estimated at €190 million and €368 million for France.
Despite the good numbers, however, there were a host of problems that need to be addressed and reviewed before the next Games. Problems from the last Games included faulty IT systems, transport, security, delays in issuing of ministry paperwork on departure of horses, insufficient amenities and services, and cross country day traffic problems. Holding the Games over multiple venues also resulted in complex logistics and increased cost.
The Sports Consultancy (TSC) conducted a strategic review after the Games. Ninety-seven percent of the consultees agreed the Games should remain a pinnacle on the calendar year and 83 percent felt that all eight disciplines should remain in the Games. The following conclusions from the review were highlighted as potential solutions to the existing problems:
- Reduction in the size of the competitor field
- Reduction in length of the event; nine to 10 days including two weekends was deemed the optimal length. The current format was deemed too long to sustain media and spectator interest.
- Re-design of the competition formats and schedule to encourage a more compact foot print
- Development and implementation of industry leading sport presentation concepts that deliver to the non-equestrian fan needs.
Stefan Kürten from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) addressed the forum in regards to media and the challenges sports face in public broadcasting:
- Challenges include competition between sports events, less airtime for sport on generalist channels, strong fragmentation of the TV market, increasing calendar conflicts and the duration of sport events versus entertainment programs.
- Kürten said “ratings are king,” and the key to increased airtime on public television was a high quality television production, telling stories, meeting the broadcasters’ needs, and a requirement for strict timetable discipline and focus.
“We know the World Equestrian Games should be shorter and we absolutely need to control the costs and the number of athletes, so that Organizing Committees can establish a realistic budget. And we know that we need to be very clear on the more detailed requirements,” Ingmar said.
“But one of the most important conclusions from the Forum is that there is a future for the World Equestrian Games and it’s a bright future, as long as we address the issues that have been brought to the table.”
Olympic Agenda 2020
IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell addressed delegates on Olympic Agenda 2020 and why it is relative to the FEI, which is currently reviewing the formats of its Olympic disciplines.
“The reasons you’re going through this process are similar to the reasons why we’ve gone through the process of Agenda 2020,” Kit said. “We need to embrace change and be a driver of change, not a passenger, and we are moving forward with a completely holistic review of the IOC and the Olympic Movement.”
- There are four key elements to Agenda 2020: maximizing engagement of the youth audience; achieving gender equality and promotion of women’s sport; increasing universality; and increasing the popularity and value of the Olympic Games. Ingmar de Vos later stated that the FEI shares these principles and that it is a main reason the FEI and IOC are together at the Forum.
- The IOC wants to achieve 50% female participation in the Olympic Games and therefore increase female participation in sports. To achieve this, mixed-gender team events and an equal gender balance is encouraged. While across all sports at the 2012 Olympics, there was 44.4% female participation in London, there were 122 men and 77 women competing in equestrian.
- Ingmar later spoke of gender equality in equestrian sports and said it is “one of the key assets of our sport and a value which we are very proud of.”
- Ticketing in London was strong, with 98% of tickets sold across three disciplines.
- In television broadcast, jumping received the most hours of coverage, but dressage was the most popular discipline online and in print. Ingmar later reiterated that media figures “will be, more than ever before, the parameters on which sports will be evaluated for the future Olympic Programmes.”
- Kit stressed that the IOC should embrace traditions and history and make them a strength, citing the unique nature of equestrian sport.
- Ingmar discussed two general proposals across the three Olympic disciplines of making a clear differentiation between team and individual competitions and the removing the drop score to “fulfill the universality and excellence elements of Agenda 2020.”
“I want to reiterate that the values of our sport are paramount in all these discussions and it’s not about changing for the sake of change,” Ingmar said. “We have our traditions, our values and our identity, but this does not mean we have to be conservative. It’s about finding the right balance and implementing the right changes without losing the essence of our sport.
“We need to ask ourselves, is equestrian sport too complicated for television viewers and spectators with no equestrian background? Is it global enough? Are competition formats simple to understand and exciting enough to encourage new fans?
“If our ultimate goal is modern horse sport for the modern era, then we need to address all these questions.”
Eventing Proposed Format Changes
“Eventing is not new to change,” said Giuseppe della Chiesa, Chair of the FEI Eventing Committee. “We have already undergone major changes relatively recently to accommodate the Olympic challenges of cost, space and complexity. As with the other Olympic disciplines, we are now proposing new ideas to meet the Agenda 2020 objectives. We need to explore ideas and be prepared to adapt if the time comes that we need to change.”
- We learned earlier this month that on the agenda is an examination of eventing and the consideration of proposals put forward by Charles Barnett, former Chief Executive of Ascot Racecourse, who was hired to audit the sport. At the Forum, Barnett detailed the findings from his review as they currently feature in the Olympic Games. His “final research project” reviewing safety aspects of the sport through analysis of both FEI and National competitions will be delivered to the FEI in November.
- The positive aspects of the proposals would fit with the International Olympic Committees “core values of universality, excellence and spectator engagement.” These include more country flags for teams and emphasis on the value of Team effort, shorter competitions with more exciting and open results, no extra competition days, improved qualification structure, culminating in the ‘Olympic dream’ being more easily accessible to smaller nations.
- The adverse aspects of these proposals means less flags for individuals, increased cost of cross country with courses for two levels, best riders potentially not competing in Team competition, Team members not starting if previous teammates have failed to finish.
- Separating the FEI Classics 4* circuit (individuals) from Olympic and Championship circuit (teams) and increasing qualification requirements for participation on the 4* FEI Classics (individual) circuit was also discussed, as was reviewing cross country penalties (disobediences and knocking down flags) and saddlery (cross country bits).
- They considered the development of indoor arena eventing and whether eventing how to ensure the sport is easily understood by a mainstream audience.
- The Event Rider’s Association and the Australian, British, Dutch, German and Irish Equestrian Federations focused on the strength of the cross country phase for audience impact, the need for consistent 3* or 4* eventing, the team/individual split and the importance of underlining the FEI’s ‘Olympic’ equestrian athletes.
The FEI Eventing Committee said that all points raised during the FEI Sports Forum will be further discussed in Open Forums at the Pan American Games, the Olympic Groups F&G meeting at Boekolo and at the FEI European Eventing Championships at Blair Castle in Scotland.
More from the forum
- In addition to the topics outlined above, proposed changes to jumping, dressage and the non-Olympic disciplines of driving, endurance, vaulting and reining was also discussed.
- The first FEI Athletes’ Committee meeting since the FEI Athlete Representative elections last year was also held during the Forum. Chair of the FEI Athlete Committee Maria Gretzer said the first session of the committee was a great success and that athlete career management and athlete involvement in FEI Championships and Games will be covered in the next meeting.
- During an Extraordinary General Assembly held during the forum, the FEI voted unanimously to modify the organization’s Statutes to allow the FEI President to receive remuneration. The final decision will be made by the FEI Bureau, which will discuss the issue at a meeting in June. Dr. Claude Nordmann of the Swiss National Federation called for a study to be conducted on salaried positions.
- The EGA also unanimously approved several proposed changes to the Internal Regulations of the FEI, including the addition of the President to the list of signatories to official documents.
Ingmar de Vos closed the Forum by thanking all the participants and urged everyone, including those who were unable to attend, to continue the debate on the dedicated FEI online platform here.
“The Technical Committees have put forward strong, and sometimes quite provocative proposals, but it’s been done deliberately to make you think,” de Vos said. “The debate that I’ve heard here over the last two days has been very good and there’s been some real out of the box thinking, but nothing has been decided yet. The Sports Forum is a phase in a very transparent decision making process where the ideas of the Committees can be tested against the ideas of our members and our stakeholders.
“The Committees now have a very clear idea of what they have to do on some of the key areas that have been discussed, and they will finalize the proposals before they go out to the National Federations and then to the General Assembly.”