The Federation Equestré Internationale is facing opposition from several groups who see its green lighting of the new Longines Global Champions Tour/Global Champions League entry format as detrimental for the future of show jumping.
The European Equestrian Federation together with the International Jumping Riders Club are publicly speaking out against a new entry invitation system put forward by the LGCT/GCL, which was approved by the FEI in January, 2017.
At issue is a reduction by half in the percentage of invitations put forward to the top-ranked riders in the world. Previously, 60% of entry invitations to the LGCT’s 15-leg, CSI5* circuit were offered to the top 30 riders in the world. 20% of invitations went to home riders and FEI wild cards. And, 20% to the organizers themselves. It is generally accepted that the latter 20% of invitations given by organizers were awarded to riders via pay cards.
To resolve its long-running dispute in which the FEI refused to approve the GCL prior to and throughout its 2016 season, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two parties. Within that MOU a new entry invitation system was put forward:
30% of invitations offered to riders on the Longines FEI Ranking List in descending order.
30% of invitations offered to riders on Longines FEI World Ranking list between 17/18-250, not in descending order.
10% of invitations offered to home riders.
30% of invitations for the organizers themselves.
By the numbers, this means that 15, rather than 30, of the top 30 riders in the world will be given entry into LGCT shows.
In Europe it is common practice for the top 30 ranked riders in the world to receive entry to five star shows at no cost to the rider. With its prize money offerings and status as Longines FEI World Ranking competitions, the LGCT has long been a highly sought after—if not the most sought after—series for riders, so the reduction by half of top 30 rider invitations is not sitting well with the EEC or IJRC.
Further complicating matters is the entry system of the Global Champions League, the new team format that was introduced as an unrated series last year.
Eighteen teams are being organized for the 2017 Global Champions League at a price tag of €2 million per team. In 2016, most teams were owned by wealthy riders who employ professional riders in their training programs, or by a group of riders and sponsors. Two riders from each GCL team of four are given entry to participate in each GCT/GCL leg of the series, totaling 40 riders. €22 million in prize money is on offer in GCL competition alone this season. The GCL/GCT have also made big changes to the competition format itself, as outlined here.
With 60% of invitations (30% to riders ranked 17 – 250, not in order, and 30% to organizers), which total 40 riders, now falling under the control of the show organizers, it doesn’t take a large leap of logic to see that riders must either be ranked among the top 15 in the world, or be a GCL participant, to gain entry to this year’s Longines Global Champions Tour.
FEI President Ingmar De Vos has stated that no pay cards—also known as pay to play—are allowed in GCL competition. This would mean that riders cannot pay to be on a GCL team, cannot pay to compete, or pay to own a GCL team. That said, EEF and its stakeholders have taken the position that the GCT/GCL invitation format seems to have made it near-impossible for riders ranked 16th and below to participate on the GCT circuit if they are not part of a GCL team.
It is this interpretation that has raised alarm among those European show jumping nations that are represented by the EEF, who fear that approval of the format paves the way for a future in which show jumping will be accessible only to the super wealthy, and opens up the sport to other series that would like to adopt similar formats. Riders Kevin Staut and Steve Guerdat spoke out on Sunday morning to the French publication L’Eperon about the matter.
The EEF plans to issue a joint statement from its participating federations after its stakeholder meeting in Bern, Switzerland on March 14. The LGCT plans to hold an informative media event on the same day in Holland, to better explain and answer questions about the new format.
What do you think? Will the new, FEI-approved GCT/GCL format put team competition in the spotlight on a global stage, or will it make the top level of the sport less accessible for professional riders?
Also currently at issue is a proposal by the FEI to harmonize worldwide entry fees.