Debate about the influence of developing and inactive countries over the Olympic format continues, following more number crunching by the International Jumping Riders Club about a major vote at the FEI General Assembly (GA.)

Last month the GA voted by 70-30 in favour of continuing with three to a team and no drop score at the Olympic Games of Paris 2024, despite horse welfare issues arising at Tokyo where riders struggling with the track had to continue for the sake of their nation.

IJRC found that:

  • Less than 10% of the 70 countries in favour of the three-rider format had ever competed in the Olympics or had any riders competing in Nations Cups or 5* shows;
  • 90% of the 30 countries wishing to reinstate teams of four with drop score had competed in the Olympic Games;
  • Only 10% of the 34 countries that had competed in jumping at the Olympics preferred the three-rider format.

The IJRC’s director Eleonora Ottaviani has circulated further thoughts  because the jumpers still hope another solution can be found. This could include a Russian delegate’s idea that federations sideline their conflicts and ask the IOC to increase the current cap on 200 starters across the three disciplines. In 2017, teams of three was a simple mathematical solution to involve more countries within the 200-horse limit.

Ottaviani says: “It seems that the conflict surrounding the Olympic format is not one between European nations and the rest of the world, but rather between those who have competed in the Games and those who have not. For many of the countries that voted for the 3-rider format, there are sadly not the premises [sic] for competing in the Paris Olympics to be held in just two years’ time.

“Many federations certainly considered the opinions expressed by the IOC’s Sport Director [in a letter to the FEI about teams of three dated November 3], opinions that express correct concepts that we respect and that have also been acknowledged by our institutions.

“In this letter, however, there is a word missing that is essential to all of us: HORSES. Horses are the reason for which all those involved in equestrian sports are here; they are our partners in sport and in life.”

The IJRC again asks why the countries taking part in the Olympic Games “should obey rules dictated by federations with no Olympic experience whatsoever, the vast majority of which will be unable to qualify for Paris in 2024?”

She says that under Swiss law every national federation has the right to one vote, a system based on a democratic majority. But in equestrian the minority group of national federations represent about 85% of those who practice horse sports. This risks the FEI becoming a dictatorial democracy.

She suggests the voting system should be more aligned to tennis and skiing which give every federation a vote. But only those with a very large number of athletes competing internationally and with results at World Championships and Olympics have the right to additional votes.

Ottaviani says there was “a strange atmosphere” at the GA “in which everyone was making their case, but there was instead a perceived problem in listening or trying to understand others.”

Other important questions arising include likely sponsor reaction to the sacrificing of quality; do we change the rules because some countries find it easier to find three horse-and-rider combinations than four; do we really wish to become like boxing, basketball or tennis which no longer consider the Olympics as everyone’s dream; and what do we do if in the future some countries tell us they only have two riders? has regularly reported the shortfall in the number of equestrian nations with enough able riders to field a team. Around 20 of the FEI’s 136 existing member countries have no registered riders or horses at all, but still get a vote on all important issues. Last month the FEI introduced a new associate tier of membership that has no voting rights initially, but this will not be applied retroactively. Nepal is the first “Associate” member. The European Equestrian Federation is considering a similar scheme.

The FEI hoped to see 55 flags at Tokyo by reducing teams to three riders and freeing up more spaces for individuals. In the end 54 countries qualified either teams, individuals or both, but with late withdrawals there were 50 flags in all. This can be partly attributed to the disruption caused worldwide by the pandemic, though qualifications were significantly eased for some developing regions and “special” competitions arranged – another bone of contention. At least two jumping riders whose gained most of their country’s Olympic points at 2* level did not manage to complete the opening round at Tokyo.