Wind of changes, discussing the future of Olympic equestrian sports with the FEI President
Beautiful Lausanne is said to be the world’s sport capital. Headquarters of the International Olympic Committee and more than 60 international sports federations are located here. We are driving across the quiet streets of Lausanne enjoying the views of colorful Swiss autumn and finally parking in front of the modern British-style building. This is the headquarters of the Fédération Equestre Internationale. Editor of Russian horsetimes.ru Maria Talanova came here to have an interview with Mr Ingmar De Vos – the President of the FEI.
Passing big doors made of glass we entered a world of strong traditions of hospitality combined with innovations and beauty. The interior is a perfect fusion of modern materials like steel and glass with a very traditional one – wood. The rhythm of decorations is going up like a reflection of the perfect results in sport.
Taking place at the leather sofa at the comfy office of Mr. Ingmar De Vos we started talking about the Olympics.
The Olympic Games
horsetimes.ru: The XXXI Summer Olympic Games in Rio passed by. What do you think of their results?
Ingmar de Vos: We had great Games. The road to Rio was complicated but our team worked very hard on that. We had a lot of meetings, discussions and were very happy that the President of Brazilian National Equestrian Federation, Luiz Roberto Giugni, played a very important role in achieving what we needed to achieve running up to these Games. It was done very well and everybody was very happy – the athletes, the horses, the grooms. The stables were organized perfectly. Also the main arena, the cross-country, training areas, everything was fine.
We had to help a little bit financially to get it ready in time. I think we had great competitions in all the 3 Olympic disciplines: jumping, dressage and eventing. Very important also that in Rio we had clean Games. We had no positive cases in our sport. It was valid for the Olympic Games as well as for the Paralympics. We were quite happy with that because it is always good for the reputation of the sport. Thanks also to an intensive information campaign about our anti-doping program and all the people that were involved: the athletes, the vets and the grooms. They were educated in time in order to have these clean Games. In the end for us it was great.
horsetimes.ru: Reviewing the results of the Games there might be some changes in sport system. What kind of changes might be made in equestrian sports?
Ingmar de Vos: After the WEG 2014 which were very successful we started to look for our formats because as you probably know we are living in a very competitive world. We are not only competing in sports but also with all the kinds of entertainment like social media, digital media, etc. After Thomas Bach was elected as the IOC President he introduced Agenda 2020 which has 40 recommendations for the future of the Olympics and the Olympic movement. We see that the IOC is permanently evaluating all sports now, focusing more and more on the television figures, social media figures and evaluating all the events on the popularity of the sport and how it attracts new audiences and especially the youth.
A lot is going on. If you want to be relevant in this community and in these competitions with all the sports and all the types of entertainment we need to make our formats more attractive than before and interesting for television, easy to understand, also for the youth. We want to maintain our position and we need to evolve like other sports. We need to keep on working on popularity and on the growth of our sport. We need to be honest when we look at the development of equestrian sport, because we are always compared with the other federations.
Our sport is growing. We see that every year the number of international events increases. The number of athletes that compete in the international events is increasing, both humans and horses. That is a really good thing but we need to do further promotion and improve our sport.
That is why we have taken some initiatives as you probably know that we changed the format of the Nations Cup in Jumping. Previously it was a European-centric series. We made it global with qualifiers around the world, with a great final which is easy to understand. There are 18 teams taking part in the Final. We have two rounds. The second one is the one for the top 8 teams. It makes it very interesting for television and easy to understand. The athletes are very fond of it.
We are looking at changes for the future and especially for the Olympic Games. As you know we had a very successful campaign “Two Hearts” which we also specifically did in Russia. That was done to get new fans, to make our sport more popular and to promote it. We are going to publish the results at the General Assembly (in Tokyo in November). They are quite impressive.
Besides that we should work on the Olympic Games and on the future of that. We have a quota system. We have only 200 athletes in our quota while, for example, athletics has 2,000. We understand that 200 athletes in a quota is not a lot. Overall the IOC tries to control and even reduce the number of athletes in the Games so we cannot hope to increase the quota. We should be realistic.
Within this quota we have three disciplines: jumping (75), dressage (60) and eventing (65) and team and individual athletes that we can accommodate. One of the problems of the past was that we could accommodate only 40 nations in our sport. In athletics they can accommodate over 200. Due to the fact that we had a limited quota we cannot accommodate as many nations as we want and that has a big impact.
As I said our sport is growing. We have more and more nations capable of competing at international level and entitled to have their Olympic dream. Together with the Olympic dream comes the support of the governments and the National Olympic Committees. This is really important for further development.
On the other hand more and more everything is about broadcast rights and also the IOC is now evaluating all the sports on the broadcast figures so the more nations you can accommodate in your sport the more visibility your sport will get. During the Olympic Games period there is a lot of competition between all the different Olympic sports. If you have countries participating in your sport in the Games they will also broadcast it in their country. The more nations we can accommodate the more television exposure we will get.
We have just held our General Assembly, in Tokyo where the final vote was cast by our National Federations on the proposals to change the formats for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We are pleased to say that the vote was overwhelmingly in support of reducing the number of athletes in teams from 4 to 3, and having one individual for each nation that does not qualify with a team in Jumping and Dressage, and two individuals in Eventing and Para-Equestrian Dressage. This will allow us to increase the number of flags from 40 to 60, opening up opportunities for more nations to qualify for the Games and to get increased broadcast coverage.
This is the plan we have been working on for two the past years. In the very beginning our community was not enthusiastic about it, but we understood that we needed to do something. Now that the proposal passed at the General Assembly, it will go to the IOC who will make a decision about events and quotas in 2017. And then, based on what is accepted by the IOC, we will have to work on the distribution of the quota system across the globe.
horsetimes.ru: Dressage is always called a discipline to have a personal impact in judgment and to be considered. Are there any changes planned to be hold upon dressage in the near future?
Ingmar de Vos: Let me first of all say that there were no judging issues in Dressage during the Olympic Games in Rio. I think that worked very well. We already introduced a couple of years ago the Judges Supervisory Panel (JSP), which basically oversees the judging and has a possibility to do some steering there.
* The Judges Supervisory Panel is allowed to correct the judges’ marks for factual errors, such as definite technical mistakes. It is mandatory for defined events such as the Olympic Games, FEI World Equestrian Games™, FEI Continental Championships at Grand Prix level as well as FEI World Cup™ Finals. The JSP should evaluate the quality of judges in general, make a proposal for assessment of judges and their status (promotion), provide a “long list” proposal of judges (for the Olympic Games, FEI World Equestrian Games™, Continental Championships at Grand Prix level, FEI World Cup™ Finals) and a general overview of the “judges’ world” to the FEI Dressage Committee and FEI Headquarters.
Of course we always try to improve things. We created the Judges Dressage working group which is going to look at how we can further improve the judging, making it more transparent. We have some ideas that we are going to implement next year for the World Cup.
** The remit of this Working Group includes, but is not limited to, evaluating whether the measures introduced after the 2009 Dressage Task Force had a positive, neutral or negative effect on the quality of Dressage judging; evaluating the current Dressage judging system in general; creating a benchmark of various subjectively judged sports in order to define areas for improvement in the Dressage system; and issuing recommendations to the FEI Dressage Committee on ways to improve the Dressage judging system.
The Working Group is chaired by FEI Bureau member Frank Kemperman (NED) and includes Maribel Alonso (MEX), Richard Davison (GBR), Kyra Kyrklund (FIN), and David Stickland (GBR) as members. The FEI is also reaching out to stakeholders and members of the community to encourage them to provide ideas and documents for discussion.
We are looking for new possibilities in judging on making it be more transparent and easier to follow for the spectators. We have seen already many applications that allow public to judge. I think it is an interesting way to connect with the spectators. So yes, we are working on this. There is always a margin to improve. The more discussions we have about judging the better and the more transparent it will be. That is of course our mission.
*** The organisers of the World Equestrian Festival at Aachen in Germany introduced a spectator judging app, which is welcomed by the FEI. The app enables spectators to be more involved in the sport of Dressage by judging the tests themselves, enhancing the spectator experience. Spectators have the possibility to give figure by figure marks or an overall score for the full test. In Freestyle tests, they have the possibility to provide both Technical Execution and Artistic Presentation averages. This feature is proving popular and the FEI is looking at further ways to develop the spectator experience.
The Paralympic Games
horsetimes.ru: The Paralympics are over. The Games passed by without Russian national team. Are there any plans on how to protect the sportsmen in future?
Ingmar de Vos: The Paralympic Games are over, nothing can be done now. But I think it is very important to say that the FEI is a service organization and we really believe that we need to help and protect all our stakeholders, including the athletes.
In this specific case we really believe that we have to support our clean athletes.
As you know with regard to the Olympic Games the IOC decided to look at the participation of the Russian athletes sport by sport. And we were very happy that we were able to support Russian athletes so that they could participate in the Games. The situation with the Paralympics was different, in the sense that there the IPC took a decision to suspend the National Paralympic Committee and, as a consequence of that, Russian athletes could not participate. In general there was no assessment per sport.
We really would have been happy if we could have supported our athletes and their horses to participate in the Paralympic Games because the assessment was our Russian equestrian athletes were clean. They deserved to go to the Games, but the IPC took a different decision to the IOC, and of course it was their right to do so. As a governing body for the Paralympics if they suspend the national federation there is not that much that we can do. But we were always ready to support the athletes and we made it also very clear to the IPC that our athletes were clean and that equestrian sport is not mentioned in either the WADA or the McLaren reports.
horsetimes.ru: Are they now blocked from the participation in all the international events?
Ingmar de Vos: I think that the good news here is that they can participate in all our international equestrian events. The Russian athletes are welcome and are allowed to compete in our 4’200 international events.
**** 4,200 events is the number of international events in all disciplines in the FEI Calendar. Among them there are currently 18 FEI Para-Equestrian Dressage events scheduled for 2017 across the world.
I think with regard to the IPC this is something to be solved at that level by us showing them that Russian athletes are more than welcome at our events. We support our clean Russian athletes like we do all our clean athletes across the world and the different nations. I think it is a very clear message.
horsetimes.ru: Almost two years passed since the moment when the new President of FEI started working. What can you tell about this period and what is planned for the future?
Ingmar de Vos: I think the period has been very busy. We had the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, and the whole discussion on reviewing the formats for the Olympic Games. We are working a lot on promoting our sport through digital media and social media. Our ‘Two Hearts’ campaign was quite successful. We are looking the new formats of the Nations Cup and finding commercial partners around it.
What I try to do is to focus on the fact that we are a service organization. We are here to support our national federations, athletes and organizers.
One of the things we are going to discuss next year is jumping. Next year in April at the FEI Sports Forum we want to have a talk about the future of jumping. We now have a lot of areas that function really well, like our IT department, and now we are much more in control of a lot of parameters of the sport.
We would like now to know how we can really find a structure for our jumping competitions. For the moment the events are categorized based on prize money, but in our view it’s not enough. There should be other parameters to evaluate the event. We are introducing our event classification system which will be linked with the ranking points, entries, the invitation system and so on. We are looking to create a new structure for jumping in the future, so it is more easily apparent to see what events are important and which ones are lower in this classification.
We have a lot of projects, and the one I personally would like to push is the relationship with the grooms. In the past we never had a relationship with the grooms. I think they are such an important part of our community. They are responsible for a lot of things during competitions. The actions we did with regard to the clean sport in the Olympic Games and the World Equestrian Games show us that they are really important partners in this fight. That’s why we want to make them a part of our community and to be able to educate them, to interact with them. I think that they can also bring a lot to us when we talk about the evaluation of events. They are the ones to go to the events and have to be at the stables. They need to be involved to our community and this is one of my priorities for the future.
Out of the office
horsetimes.ru: Describe Ingmar De Vos as a person?
Ingmar de Vos: One aspect of my personality is that I don’t like to talk about me as a person. I always say that the FEI is a service organization and I am very happy to serve this organization and the sport community. I would say that I prefer to work a bit behind the curtains rather than to stand in front of the cameras. But of course it is a part of the job. I think that I try to serve our sport and our community and that I try to stay with my two feet on the ground. I would say that I am very proud of the team we have here. We have very good professionals and very passionate people in our organization and it’s really great to work together with them.
For the rest I am a normal person. I came to the sport because my grandfather had stables and I was in contact with horses from when I was quite young. Then I started to work for the Belgian Equestrian Federation and I did 20 years there as the Secretary General and then I was asked to come here, so apparently I did not do that too bad (laughing). I spend a lot of time working for the organization so that does not give me a lot of time for personal matters, but I have a very good MP3 player. What I like to do is to read a lot and to listen to good music.
horsetimes.ru: What kind of music?
Ingmar de Vos: All kinds of music but myself I have a bit of a passion for classical. I have a piano in my apartment here in Switzerland and also one in Belgium. I like to play it also when I am there.
All good music is good!
Thank you very much.