19 Apr 2012

Around the Ring Q&A

 With just 100 days to go until Olympic equestrian events open in London, how are preparations coming?

If I recall correctly, the actual venue at Greenwich Park still must be built… Greenwich Park is located in the middle of the London 2012 Olympic cluster and is the second largest venue of the entire Games. The equestrian Olympic and Paralympic competitions, except for the Eventing Cross Country, will be held over a large temporary steel and wood platform in order to protect the nature of Greenwich Park, which is a World Heritage Site.

The design was developed by Atkins, the UK’s largest engineering and design consultancy. No international equestrian event has ever been held on such a platform and its construction is a genuine engineering achievement. Its surface will be 9450m2 and there will be a 3.6 metre drop in ground level from one end to the other.

The numerous panels will be held up by 2,000 legs distributing weight evenly to the ground below, thereby protecting the underlying surface. In addition to the load bearing qualities at surface and ground level the platform will create a “ground like” response for the horses in terms of vibration. This will be made possible by a combination of actions between the panels, working in conjunction with an adjustable steel leg, a feature unique to this solution.

The platform will be built to hold the field of play where the 275 Olympic and Paralympic riders will perform and it will provide seats for 23,000 spectators. A smaller version of this platform was successfully tested during the test event held in Greenwich last July. The platform is currently being constructed and will be tested further to ensure optimum conditions during the Games.

The test event organised in July 2011 allowed us to thoroughly examine every aspect of the upcoming competitions and to address the outstanding issues. We are confident that the London 2012 Olympic Games will be memorable for our sport and will be the perfect setting for the celebration of equestrian sport’s 100 years on the Olympic Programme.

How many horses and riders are you expecting for the Games?

There will be 200 riders in the three Olympic disciplines: 75 in Jumping and in Eventing, and 50 in Dressage. Since reserve horses are allowed in certain cases, the number of equine athletes will be slightly higher than 200. How is FEI hoping to capitalize upon the excitement that seems to exist around the 2012 equestrian events given such an iconic venue and such a historically horse-loving host country in Great Britain? Greenwich Park’s central location will allow us to demonstrate that all three Olympic equestrian disciplines, including Eventing, can be organised at the heart of the Games and in the heart of a capital city, therefore bringing our sport to a new public.

Last year’s test event provided us with some exceptional photographs that show this iconic venue at its best, with the historical buildings in Greenwich contrasting with the modern skyline of the city of London. To have that as the backdrop for the Olympic equestrian events is a real privilege and will undoubtedly produce some of the most iconic images from London 2012.

The performance of the host nation is always important for the overall success of a given sport and even of the entire Olympic Games. Great Britain is one of the world’s strongest equestrian nations and it is a matter of great satisfaction to the FEI that they have qualified the maximum number of riders – 13. They did so on their own merit by winning some of FEI’s major championships. We are looking forward to some memorable British performances, and to some very enthusiastic British supporters. London 2012 will mark the centenary of equestrian sport in the Games. How will you celebrate this milestone, and what must FEI do to stay on the Olympic program for another 100 years? Protecting the status of equestrian sport in the Olympic Movement is one of the pledges I made to our member federations that elected me as FEI President.

Being an IOC member has enabled me to build stronger links between our two organisations. We have made sure that we are seen to be helpful to the IOC at all times and have worked tirelessly to ensure that horse sport is in line with all their requirements, that it is transparent and cost effective. I can safely say that the FEI has become a trusted partner in the Olympic network. The best proof of the legitimacy of our sport on the Olympic programme is the huge demand for tickets for this summer’s competitions.

Our events were sold out in a matter of weeks, establishing us as one of the most popular sports in the Games. The best celebration we can have is clean and safe equestrian competitions of the highest level held in a spirit of excellence and fair play.

What does Japanese rider Hiroshi Hoketsu’s qualification mean to you? Do you such success from a 70-year-old as good or bad for the image of equestrian?

Equestrian sport is a unique sport. It is a sport where men and women, the young and the not so young, the disabled and the able-bodied compete together, and where the horse is the great equaliser. It requires exceptional skills and a top physical condition for both rider and horse. Hiroshi Hoketsu, who turned 71 at the end of last month, has gained Olympic qualification by taking the top spot in his region. He competed in 1964 in his home city of Tokyo in Jumping. Forty four years later he participated in the Beijing Olympic Games in Dressage. If he does indeed participate in London – the definite entries will be announced on 9 July – it will be wonderful for the sport as this will demonstrate its full potential and universal appeal. Equestrian athletes enjoy extraordinary longevity and their sporting careers span over decades which makes them stay exceptionally fit throughout their lives.

For example, Canadian rider Ian Millar, who won team silver at the 2008 Olympic Games, is one of only two athletes from any country and in any sport to have participated in nine Olympic Games. Millar’s first participation was exactly 40 years ago, in Munich in 1972, and since he is still active and may make team Canada in London, he could yet add to his tally. Nelson Pessoa, who competed in the 1956 Olympic Games and came second in the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final 35 years later in 1991, is another household name. Either way, it’s amazing the range of ages equestrian has competing at the top level. How early do you recommend children pick up the sport, and are you encouraging your own kids to ride? Yes, of course I am.

What’s the significance of FEI’s first-ever Sports Forum later this month in Lausanne?

The FEI Sports Forum is very important to us as it will open up a new channel for dialogue with our members. Rule changes, which are crucial for all our disciplines, were always handled though a very formal “paper” procedure which did not allow for a direct exchange of ideas. There was no place where we could talk about sports matters with our members and stakeholders face to face and I felt as if we were divorced from our sport. I very much hope that void will be filled by the Sports Forum. We would like to know the views of our members, to bring transparency and speed to the decision-making process, to make it more open and democratic, and to ultimately serve our members in the best possible way. The Sports Forum is a great addition to the calendar, it is an avenue for speedy, yet sound, decisions. It will help us address the challenges of the future as a team.

What came out of the FEI Global Congress on NSAIDs in 2010, and what is equestrian doing now that perhaps other sports aren’t to fight doping ahead of the 2012 Olympics? It is important to remember that our sport is very specific in that it involves a human and an animal and that it has not been easy to harmonise the fight against doping and to make it WADA-compliant for these very different beings. The FEI Global Congress on Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), held in August 2010, helped us address the science and ethics of drug use in competition horses. These had been some of the biggest issues the sport had faced over the years. We thoroughly revised our rules and introduced much stronger sanctions for doping violations. And we also made a comprehensive education effort. The most significant example is perhaps the FEI Clean Sport campaign which has been running for the last two years and which has set the benchmark for other sports federations.

We designed a specific website explaining the rules and clarifying the roles of all those involved in the sport. We produced a prohibited substances database accessible online and via iPhone and Android applications and developed a global education programme. In 2010 we had no positive results in either our human or our equine athletes at the Youth Olympic Games and the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ and this is the best possible endorsement of the campaign.

How is FEI TV doing?

It’s expensive but also seems to be pretty comprehensive in terms of coverage… FEI TV, www.feitv.org, is the FEI’s official online video platform which has been operating for just over three years. Despite the fact that it is so young, it is growing at an incredible rate. We live stream the vast majority of the FEI’s top events and have approximately 50 broadcasts a year, along with thousands of hours of archive footage, highlights and interviews. Our biggest operation to date was the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2010, when FEI TV reached almost 2 million page views. It is a really great resource and one of which we are very proud because it has allowed us to make our sport widely available and to diversify our revenue streams.

What about FEI’s social media activities? How is equestrian embracing Facebook, Twitter, etc. to engage with fans in this Olympic year?

The FEI first had a real presence on social media in early 2011 and, since then, we have built up a solid and rapidly increasing fan base. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have helped us get closer to our fans but also to our officials and athletes, who take these new opportunities to express their opinions and talk to us more openly than ever before.

Twitter, for example, has become our constant companion. With 200 new followers joining in every week, we have found it hugely helpful to announce news and launch initiatives, but also to answer queries, to clarify new rules, and to maintain an open and informal dialogue with all those interested in our sport. We make sure that all the important announcements are made on Twitter because we know that there they will not go unnoticed. We are counting down to London 2012 with an image campaign and competitions on both Twitter and Facebook and are working closely with the IOC and LOCOG social media teams in the run-up to the Games to put our equestrian and para-equestrian athletes in the spotlight.