Equestrian Blog

News and thoughts from around the equestrian community

Eventing's Wind Of Change

Thirteen years ago, Will Carling made national headlines and became (albeit temporarily) stripped of the captaincy of England’s rugby union team when he famously referred to the board in charge of his sport as “57 old farts”.  Since then, the phrase has stuck in the English language as a shorthand for a staunch, often misguided policy of clinging to amateurism and traditional values.  In Britain we may like our traditions but we’re often hamstrung by having too many of them and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of sport and its many governing bodies. While Carling’s ire was directed towards the RFU in 1995, you could equally have substituted the FA (football), the MCC (cricket), the LTA (tennis), the R&A (golf) or a litany of other organisations for similar head-in-the-sand blinkeredness.  Most of these organisations, worryingly, would often have the word ‘British’ in their title. And what of our equestrian organisations?  The BHS seems to have stagnated at the 60,000 members mark, happy to congratulate itself if it manages to add more than a few hundred extra members each year.  Such has been its torpor, that it even attracted criticism from its own (now former) president, Noel Edmonds.   You may be forgiven for thinking that those who can, participate in their sport and those who can’t, administer it. It’s against this rather depressing backdrop that it’s so refreshing to see not only an exciting new initiative about to hit the horse world, but one that is backed by the organisation that officially represents the sport.
Express Eventing claims to bring the spirit of 20Twenty Cricket to the sport of eventing.  The three-phase format is shortened to a few hours, with the world’s best horses and riders all competing in a spectacular stadium environment.  The International Cup has attracted 20 of the sport’s biggest names and the backing of British Eventing.   I’m sure the £100,000 first prize helped to convince a few riders, remembering that the richest ‘regular’ event, Badminton pays out £60,000 to the winner.  Even so, someone had to come up with the money and someone else had to ‘think big’ in order to convince them to do so.  I admire anyone who can turn a big idea into a big success and I really hope that this venture is successful.
Inevitably, the venue is Cardiff’s marvellously versatile Millennium Stadium.  It boasts the UK’s only fully covered field and a capacity of 73,000, a figure which will be reduced by the mysterious decision not to make the lower tier seating available.  I’m sure it will be revealed why in good time but even so, upto 50,000 fans could still be accommodated.   In truth, I’d guess that the organisers will be delighted with any 5-figure attendance.  The Rugby League’s ‘Millennium Magic’ weekends there have only yielded gates of around 25,000, so it’s perhaps wise to guard against over-optimism here.  Even so, the very thought of a Premier League-sized crowd cheering on a horse and rider in a world-class stadium on November 30th is a thrilling one. There are so many reasons to wish this project well.  If successful, the aim is to ‘roll out’ the principle across a number of glamorous locations around the world.  Why deny Miami and Las Vegas the concept if Cardiff has already proved it is a success?   Will this provide the sport with the boost it needs?  Will it inject the much-demanded and now possibly clichéd ‘X-Factor’?  It may well have arrived just in time.  In recent years, the sport has had to battle for its life as an Olympic sport, with cost, safety and narrow participation all factors counting against it.  It is a well-documented fact that the adoption of the ‘short format’ (minus the steeplechase and the roads-and-tracks phases) saved it from becoming consigned to Olympic history.  I was fortunate enough to be at a seminar recently in which Princess Haya of Jordan, now the FEI’s president put in very stark terms the challenges facing international equestrian sport.  I hope and I’m sure the Cardiff experiment, with all the potential it offers, will have her and the FEI’s attention. If successful, will it threaten the longer format of the sport?  According to Express Eventing, it’s deliberately timed to take place in the English winter, to avoid a conflict with the ‘regular’ eventing season.  In theory though, it could threaten to overtake the older version if it is popular enough, just as Twenty20 now threatens to out-perform test cricket in some countries.  As a retailer, I’m tempted to say that whatever the public want, they should have and if the public are given a choice and choose to support one version more than the other, so be it.  As a cricket fan however, it does concern me that 200 years of test cricket tradition may ultimately be at risk if the 20-over format maintains its growth.  I'm sure that there are many eventing fans who would be just as concerned if a similar thing happened within their sport. However imporant, this is still a question for the future.  Ture progress is almost always controversial, which is precisely why it is often so tempting for the ‘old farts’ to attempt to dilute it or shy away from it altogether.  At least now, eventing seems to be facing up to the future with its fate a little more firmly in its own hands.   How long before another equestrian sport feels it necessary to follow suit?

Comments (0) -

Comments are closed