An Open Letter From Stephan Conter

Stephan Conter of the internationally successful and respected Stephex Group in Belgium has taken the opportunity to pen an open letter to the FEI. The letter, originally published via the Stephex Group website on April 18, 2017, comes at a formative time for the FEI, which has recently put forth several modifications that have potential to change the face of the sport of show jumping. 

Open letter from Stephan Conter to the President of the FEI
Brussels, 18 April 2017

Mr President,

As a result of your recent decisions and those of the FEI, I wanted to attend the work and forum organized by the FEI on the occasion of the “FEI Sport Forum 2017” in Lausanne.

Indeed, in the face of the important and profound modifications that these imply and the major changes for riders, contest organizers, federations and more broadly for the entire equine channel of show jumping, it seemed important to me to take the time to meet. To listen and react to make my voice, our voice heard. This voice is that of a field actor who has worked on many levels and for a long time to develop equestrian sport, to make it live and to spread it widely with a triple ambition: Uncompromising quality, accessibility and the freedom to create, undertake and grow. These three inseparable aspects seem to me to be essential in order to promote both a free choice of actors, a diversification of the offer and the free expression of the entrepreneurial spirit guaranteeing this diversity and quality.

It has been several weeks since I received many invitations or incentives to express myself and / or act. First of all, I wanted to take a step back and take some initiatives to gather the views of each other and to analyze the current situation.

It seems to me that the time has now come to tell you, Mr President, my opinion, my opinion, my fears and my vision of things. I am not the official voice of a lobby, a federation or whatever, but, In view of the many daily contacts and messages I receive, I think I can say that my position is very widespread in the equestrian community of show jumping, that of the riders who do a remarkable daily work, sometimes difficult, with heart and ambition And also the organizers who try to develop projects to promote in a balanced way, surpassing oneself, sport, spectacle, quality and visibility of our sport. This community of which I speak, in the broad sense, feels at the very least shaken, very worried, destabilized and not respected by fuzzy rules and especially at double speed.

The FEI, at the CSI / CSIO requirements / paycards forum session and moderated by John Madden, provided an excellent overview of the situation and a good summary. It has covered most of the questions that everyone has to ask themselves after they have read the new rules and decisions.

The intentions of the façade of this presentation, which was supposedly open and transparent, must be put into perspective considerably, given the extremely limited time devoted to questions and answers, exchanges and listening to the opinions of the assembly or the fact that most Questions were very diplomatically avoided or circumvented by off-topic answers. I refer, for example, to the questions posed by Mr Henk Nooren to John Madden which simply remained unanswered. An example of a high-level politician’s language worthy of political communication practices of another time. A few minutes, therefore, of “questions-answers” closed by a unilateral conclusion welcoming an allegedly very broad agreement on the new rules; Which would have been obtained from the vast majority of the persons concerned, the federations.

Allow me, Mr President, to seriously question this conclusion.

Indeed, on the one hand, the federations were asked to position themselves on a wide global package including many subjects. The new rules were only a part of these subjects and were dealt with only from the point of view of general principles and principles, without the detailed practical details and their very negative consequences. This block was to be taken or left. The new rules could not be voted on separately.

On the other hand, if a majority has been found to support the new rules, this majority has obviously been built on a large majority of federations which represent, with all respect, countries still a thousand leagues away from what ” Is our current sport and therefore do not represent in any way the reality of our current sport and that will probably not be able to reach our level before one or two decades. These countries, a thousand leagues away from our sport, and accumulating 80% of the voting rights, have validated decisions that do not impact them or very weakly, but which have consequences for others, those who make sport as we know it today Hui. Finally, we must, whether we like it or not, Note that the vast majority of horses and riders enrolled in the FEI are European or of European origin. The equestrian industry is also predominantly present there. Unfortunately, a special position has not been given to this leading role and this preponderant position in Europe. It was your responsibility, Mr. President, that the decisions could have been discussed, debated, prepared and taken into account. I must, therefore, Mr President, take issue with this conclusion, which is that everybody would agree.

“Together, over the past 10 years, we have all, riders, sponsors, owners, and organizers, carried the jumping to a never-before-achieved level.”

Together, over the past 10 years, we have all, riders, sponsors, owners, and organizers, carried the jumping to a never-before-achieved level. Each has worked in its own way, with its objectives and its means. In this regard, we can not deny that the organization of the Global Champions Tour played a leading and important role. It encouraged everyone to make improvements where possible, prompted other organizers to seek a similar level (of equal value). The quality of our horses, riders, competitions and organizing structures have greatly improved and attractiveness has continued to grow through the show offered and prizes money. This is positive and remarkable. We need to ensure the sustainability, the enlargement and the development of what has been built, rather than taking very little concerted, thoughtless and destructive initiatives for our sport. The concrete reality, behind the speeches and presentations of this Monday 11, Seems to show that the FEI is setting up a clearly unbalanced, two-tiered system, favoring a series or some organizations to the detriment of the other organizers and this by creating separate rules for certain events. Some, underprivileged, are subject to the rule of 80% of the invitations reserved for the FEI and the federations. The others are not subject to this disastrous constraint.

These rules are eventually devastating for our sport by killing one after the other the 5 * contest. This will not lead to a monopolistic situation. In short, Mr President, in addition to the legal issues related to the monopolies that this poses, a profound threat to our sport. Why, Mr President, such a decision(s)? Once again, It is in the face of this threat that I find myself obliged to express my views on the things and the objectives to be pursued. Today, and even more so in the future, the rules and constraining developments proposed by the FEI imply in many cases that riders do not have the choice or rarely the choice between different competitions or do not have the Material possibility or the freedom to participate in each competition of a certain level. Therefore, they can not accumulate ranking points. Such discrimination, induced by the rules of the International Equestrian Federation, must now change without restricting the free economy of the organizers of jumping but, on the contrary, favoring free competition which, Guaranteeing a wide choice and a greater accessibility of the riders to the high level competitions thus enabling them to collect a maximum of points of ranking. This, and you must be its guarantor, Mr President, can only be achieved by applying to our sport the common principles of fairness and free competition.

“In short, I want a system, not where leveling from below would be the rule, but a system in which a rider and his mount ranked 200 on the ranking list for example have real chances, if he has the necessary talent.”

In short, I want a system, not where leveling from below would be the rule, but a system in which a rider and his mount ranked 200 on the ranking list for example have real chances, if he has the necessary talent. Collect points and grow in the world ranking. In the current and future context it simply has no chance and no prospect of evolution, being simply excluded from the system. To achieve this objective, I ask you formally, Dear Mr President, a moratorium of a few months on the new provisions allowing to think and build something balanced for 2018 by correcting the shooting and taking really into account the diversity of situations that exist in the sector. The equestrian industry or the organization of competitions is not the business of a single person, a single organizing structure or a specific group. I therefore ask you not only to listen to a particular voice or interest, but to hear and listen to all parties (riders, owners, sponsors, organizers) in their entirety, to analyze the scope of the various options on Table so that the possibility of collecting points is the same everywhere, That everyone is faced with the same opportunities and the same constraints, both in riders and organizers.

I therefore advocate, with all my strength, a true reflection of the FEI and a true consultation.

The “public opinion” of our sport asks for clarification on the a priori advantageous rules that benefit some. It is indeed time for all to understand, not in order to boycott “the benefits”, but in order for all organizers to receive equal treatment and the same rules. And 4 stars.

The national federation of the country of the organizer of the competition would have the right, it is quite normal, to invite 15 to 20% of the riders entered in the competition. The remaining balance is under the freedom of management of the organizer who will have the possibility to invite or not (according to the strategy he develops for his competition) the 15 or 30 best riders in the world.

A similar number of points ranking must be offered at each five-star (or 4 *) jumping, regardless of the glitter, glamor and prices associated with either organization.

Organizers wishing to offer larger, more beautiful, more luxurious competitions should have the opportunity and should be encouraged to develop these initiatives. Since the costs of these more luxurious competitions are higher, the cost of participation will of course be affected, But each rider should be able to personally decide whether or not to participate in competitions that may be more financially accessible. But in any case competitions of the same level must be able to offer the same number of ranking points and these must not be linked to the prize money which can vary from competitions to competitions depending on the attraction “commercial” Organizer wishes to offer according to its means or its objectives.

It is obvious that the organizational costs to be borne by the organizers with less expensive fixed structures are not the same as those organizing events in temporary structures by realizing very high-end. These different types of structure must be able to accommodate 5 stars. There are enough fixed structures in Europe and more broadly the FEI must be able to help the promotion of more than 5 stars so that more riders have access to it.

It is therefore necessary to promote, through simple rules and equal for all, the emergence of more 5 star competitions, in particular, without reducing the sports requirements, by decreasing the minimum price in money that a 5 star must offer. For example one could already be able to organize a grand prize 5 stars with 150.000 EUR in cash prizes. This would give more opportunities for 5-star competitions to see the light of day and leave, as I indicated above, more choice to the riders because by simultaneously organizing several competitions five stars (or 4 *) during the same weekend, more riders have ‘ The opportunity to participate effectively in competitions of the same level and to accumulate ranking points without being subject to the conditions that few can fulfill today either financially or due to lack of choice available or because reserved to the top 30 In doing so, each rider will select, In the 5 * or 4 * segment, the contest in which he is participating and the price he wishes to pay to do so. Such a system introduces a greater and broader accessibility to a greater number of riders, a sort of democratization without leveling from the bottom in the distribution of ranking points.

That’s why I imagine a totally revised system that promotes the development of more 5-star competitions while letting the freedom of enterprise express itself and to very beautiful contests to develop by proposing Experiences. As stated above, it is not, Mr President, that the share of invitations in the hands of the organizers and 80% in the hands of the FEI and the federations without being financially involved is reduced to 20%. Will arrive. With this approach, many 5 stars will disappear with as consequence, as already indicated, less choice for riders and monopolistic situation in the long term.

A few words about competitions 1, 2 or 3 stars … Here more than elsewhere it is necessary to leave a perfect freedom of invitation to the organizers.

Indeed, there is an enormous amount of competition of this type. The offer is therefore important. It is therefore necessary to allow the participants free choice in the existing wide offer of the competition they wish to follow, depending on the luxury of the competition, their own budget … It is therefore not necessary for these competitions, Complexity of the invitation or registration system.

There is also the reality of coaches and their clients who want to participate in the same contests. If they must be submitted to be selected by a federation and the coach is selected but not his / her clients because by chosen the system of selection of the FEI, You will destroy the whole organization of coaches and their riders / customers. This is a system that can not work. I also imagine a complete overhaul of the Nations Cup, this historic event on which it is possible to federate a very strong adhesion of the media, sponsors, public and riders. I want this event to return to its place as the apotheosis moment of the competition weekend.

My proposal on this is to add the prize money of the Grand Prix and the Nations Cup. For example, it would be necessary to make a test on Sunday afternoon by making two rankings. A classification by team and an individual classification. In both rankings the riders would have the possibility to accumulate points ranking. In this test, The 5th rider of each country would participate but would be in contention only for the individual classification.

There would be two awards and two opportunities to accumulate ranking points. This will give a new life to our Nations Cups that will attract the best world riders to defend the colors of their country with more motivation.

I would also like to introduce a category 6 * with more points ranking for competitions with unquestionable nobility, offering exceptional sports and qualitative experiences. I am thinking, not exclusively, of the Aix-la-Chappelle Grand Prix, the Calgary Grand Prix, the Geneva Grand Prix, the Grand Slam Rolex final, the Global Tour final, the World Cup, The world championship and the finals of the major championships.

These few avenues must not be understood as absolute certainties, as a new truth, but as working paths which I wish to animate in this period of moratorium and of urgent and necessary reflection.

To conclude, in its statutes, the FEI sets the following objective: similar and equitable conditions allowing all riders to participate in the competitions.

The new rules it intends to implement and relating to participation in competitions does not meet this objective. I am very worried about this and insist once again on the vital necessity for our sport of a FEI moratorium, allowing for a broad and real dialogue to reach a real viable and salutary consensus.

Stephan Conter


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