01 Oct 2012

Interview with Finnish Broadcasting Company

Q1: How is the equestrian sport doing today globally?

Equestrian sport has developed hugely over the last 10 years.

• It has grown in terms of events: there were over 3,000 events in 2011 (3,216), almost four times as many as 10 years ago.
• The sport has grown in terms of geographical spread: the FEI has 132 member federations on six continents. Approximately 100 organised FEI events in 2011. Riders from 40 countries took part in this summer’s London 2012 Olympic Games.
• The FEI series are developing: since last year there are FEI World Cup™ series in five disciplines (Jumping, Dressage, Eventing, Driving and Vaulting). The FEI World Cup™ Jumping alone consists of 132 competitions in 45 countries on six continents. For a second season in a row there is a Chinese League which is an exciting development.
• The FEI now has sponsors from various continents which has never been the case before (Rolex – SUI Europe; Reem Acra – Lebanon/USA, Saudi Equestrian Fund – Asia; Alltech - USA; HSBC - Europe) In the last six years, FEI’s financial metrics across the board were improved:
• Commercial revenue up from CHF 4.9 million to CHF 15.3 million
• The proportion of overall revenue from commercial activity up from 29% to 49% • Overall revenue up from CHF 17 million to CHF 31.2 million
• Assets grew from CHF 18.2 million to CHF 44.18 million, excluding the new headquarters
• Reserves up from CHF 8.7 million to CHF 10 million

Q2. What is your vision for the future of the sport today?

Equestrian is an exceptional sport: It is the only Olympic sport in which men and women compete on equal terms and share the same podium in every discipline and at all levels. Equestrian athletes enjoy extraordinary longevity and their sporting careers span decades, meaning that they stay exceptionally fit throughout their competitive careers. (Hiroshi Hoketsu JPN – 71; Ian Millar CAN, 65, team silver medallist at the 2008 Olympic Games.

This summer “Captain Canada” made his 10th Olympic appearance and set a new record as the athlete with the most Olympic participations of all time in any sport.) At the other end of the scale, there is plenty of young talent. At this summer’s London Olympic Games, we welcomed a number of riders in their late teens or early 20s in all three disciplines (e.g. Reed Kessler (USA) 18; Morgan Barbançon, (ESP) 19; Nina Ligon (THA) 20).

At grassroots level in Europe alone the vast majority of riders are aged between 13 and 18. There has been a very significant increase in the number of youth events: e.g. the number of competitions for young riders, juniors, and children in the three Olympic equestrian disciplines has increased six-fold in 10 years worldwide: there were 494 youth events in 2011 as opposed to 82 in 2001.

In 2010 at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, Dalma Rushdi Malhas became the first Saudi woman to win an Olympic medal of which the FEI is immensely proud. We are very lucky to have a sport that allows athletes to be at the top of their game in their teens and continue right on into their 60s and even 70s, still at the highest level.

Given these factors which show that the sport has a very broad appeal and is growing at a fast pace globally, I’m very optimistic for its future. It’s a wonderful situation to be in.

Q3. What are the biggest challenges that FEI is facing today?

Global appeal: we must ensure the global appeal of the sport develops further and that new countries become involved in it. We spoke earlier of the fact that the FEI’s commercial efforts have been successful. I strongly believe that commercialisation goes hand-in-hand with development. Development that is sustainable also requires a commercial income, which is dependent on the commercial success of the organisation as a whole. Development should not be seen as handouts to the less well off, but rather as the right of National Federations to evolve with dignity. This is why in 2011, the FEI established FEI Solidarity based on the hugely successful Olympic Solidarity programme.

We are already seeing results e.g. South America and the Caribbean where the number and the level of competitions is growing at an unprecedented rate. Making sure equestrian sport remains attractive to young people and to the modern spectator, who may not be 100% focused on the sport, is a priority for the FEI.

If the sport is too complex to be readily understood we will reduce interest levels, particularly amongst the young, who are easily distracted by social media, phones etc. The FEI is committed to making the sport as available and easy to watch and follow as possible through FEI TV and the increased use of social media. 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 two 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.

The FEI has also put a strong emphasis on social media and we have managed to build 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.

The weekly reach on the FEI’s Facebook page increased to 1.64 million during the first week of the London 2012 Olympic Games so we are reaching a growing audience. Twitter is also a strong communication tool. With over 10,000 followers currently and around 200 new followers joining us every week, we use it not only to announce news and to 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.

Horse welfare: No matter how much we develop and how global our sport becomes, the welfare of the horse must always be a central pillar to all our efforts. The horse is a cherished partner and without the horse nothing would be possible in our sport. Human and equine athletes share a special bond that is the key to a winning performance. Without that bond and the ability to work in harmony, top level sport and longevity in that sport can never be achieved.

Q4. This summer we celebrated the Olympic Games in London. Can you tell us how they went for equestrian sport.

Best Olympic Games ever for equestrian sport: 2012 marked 100 years of equestrian sport on the Olympic Programme and the tremendous success of the London 2012 Olympic Games was the best possible celebration we could have had.

Fantastic venue: the equestrian events of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were held at Greenwich Park which is a World Heritage Site. It was the second largest venue of the entire Games located in the middle of the Olympic cluster. The venue was beautifully prepared and the unique features of one of Great Britain’s oldest parks provided an unforgettable setting for our sport. Many many people have commented about how spectacular the Olympic equestrian events were and while of course a lot of that has to do with the sport itself, the dramatic backdrop certainly added enormously to the popular appeal.

Great crowds: The sport and the exceptional venue attracted massive crowds. The demand for tickets was huge and we had capacity crowds in the stadium. On cross country day, there was a capacity crowd of 55,000. The atmosphere was totally electric and the fans entered into the spirit of things brilliantly, with national flags, banners and fancy headgear, and fantastic Mexican waves rippling round the grandstands!

Top sport: We could not have hoped for better sport. The courses prepared by the British designers were spectacular, showcasing the many monuments and historic sites that Greenwich Park and London have to offer. Competition to qualify for the Olympic Games had been fierce and the riders gave everything to ensure they put on great performances. The Olympic records in the Dressage Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle were broken. Michael Jung of Germany became the first rider to be crowned Olympic champion while at the same time holding the World and European titles in Eventing. Steve Guerdat won Switzerland’s first individual Jumping medal since 1928. Saudi Arabia won their first ever equestrian team medal (Jumping bronze).

Historic performance of the home team: The most spectacular performances were perhaps those of the British team, which contributed enormously to the great atmosphere and the overall success of the London 2012 Olympic equestrian events. Team GB riders won five medals, three of which were gold. Their team gold in the Jumping caused a media feeding frenzy amongst the British press and it was really wonderful to see our sport making the headlines during the greatest sporting event on earth. And the British also claimed team and individual gold in Dressage for the first time in Olympic history.

Clean Games: It is also important to note that these Games were clean Games. All human and equine samples taken during the Olympic equestrian events at Greenwich Park were negative. There could not be a better endorsement of the FEI’s Clean Sport campaign.

*** FEI Press release of 16 Aug 2012 for your convenience: FEI President celebrates London 2012 clean Games in Equestrian Sports FEI President HRH Princess Haya is proud to announce that London 2012 was a clean Games for equestrian sport, following confirmation that all human and equine samples taken during the Olympic equestrian events at Greenwich Park were negative. “The FEI had a really steep mountain to climb after Athens and Hong Kong, but we had a clean Youth Olympic Games, a clean FEI World Equestrian Games and now we’ve crowned it with a clean Olympic Games in London,” Princess Haya said.

“We knew that fair play and clean sport was the only way to produce top sport in the Olympic equestrian events and we are very proud that we have achieved that goal. “The fact that all human and equine samples came back negative demonstrates the success of the FEI Clean Sport campaign, which has resulted in a major reduction in the number of positives in the Olympic disciplines over the past two and a half years. “We had a rigorous and comprehensive testing programme in place. These were the most tested Games ever and we also tested for more substances than ever before. We worked hand in hand with the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory in Newmarket and thank them for the speed with which they processed all the Olympic samples so that we could maintain a level playing field throughout the Games.

“The equestrian community shouldn’t be thinking of this as a triumph; having a clean sport should be our normal day to day business, but now that we’ve had three major championships that were the most heavily tested ever and they were 100% clean, we can hold our heads up high and say that yes, this is a victory. We haven’t reached this point by resting on our laurels, there’s always work to be done and I am incredibly proud of the FEI’s performance over the four years since Hong Kong.

"This has been a real team effort, which was kick-started by the recommendations of the Clean Sport Commission headed up by Professor Arne Ljungqvist and the Stevens Commission, led by Lord Stevens. The National Federations and the athletes and their support teams, as well as the team at FEI Headquarters have all played a major role in this success. Our community has really embraced the Clean Sport campaign.” Professor Arne Ljungqvist, IOC Member and Vice President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who chaired the FEI Clean Sport Commission, congratulated the FEI.

“I am very happy to hear that the Clean Sport campaign has led to such a successful and clean Games and would like to congratulate the FEI,” he said. Professor Ljungqvist was on-site at Greenwich Park to watch the Individual Jumping Final on 8 August, the same day that IOC President Jacques Rogge attended the Olympic equestrian events. Lord Stevens, who led the Stevens Commission that worked alongside the Clean Sport Commission, also attended the Olympic equestrian events.

“To have totally clean Games at London 2012 is the best possible endorsement of the FEI’s Clean Sport campaign,” Lord Stevens said. “I wholeheartedly congratulate the FEI on this success which is due, in no small measure, to the huge amount of work that has been done on education within the equestrian community.” Princess Haya credits the 2012 Olympic Games as the best ever for equestrian sport. “The London 2012 equestrian events were really incredible and Greenwich was a wonderful venue. We could not have wished for better sport and we now have a whole new fan base, which has to be the best legacy we could ask for. Now we have a duty to turn that fan base into new athletes so that our sport can continue to thrive and grow”, the FEI President said.

“We owe a huge debt of thanks to the whole LOCOG team, but particularly to the Equestrian Competition Manager Tim Hadaway and Venue General Manager Jeremy Edwards and their teams for all their devotion to the cause. And of course to all the wonderful volunteers. These were the best Games ever for equestrian sport.”

Notes to Editors: More human and equine testing took place at London 2012 than at any previous Olympic Games. All medallists’ horses were tested, plus all fourth-placed horses. Random testing was also carried out, with horses being picked by computerised selection. For human testing across the Games, all top four finishers, plus two other athletes selected at random, were tested by the IOC, along with other individuals selected at random. Since the launch of the free FEI Clean Sport app, there have been more than 12,500 downloads. ***

Q5. FEI’s image has become much more modern and approachable during Your FEI presidency. Through You a lot of important sponsors have teamed up, there is now FEI-TV, magazine and smart phone apps. And the latest name is one of your favourite designers, Lebanese Reem Acra, who is sponsoring the dressage World Cup. How hard work has it been to bring in these innovative elements to what has been known as a rather stiff and conservative organisation? How do You Yourself experience that the new high credibility sponsors influence FEI’s image?

Modernising the FEI has been a huge collective effort. I was elected for my first term in office as FEI President in 2006 on the basis of a comprehensive manifesto which set out a roadmap for change. With the support of our National Federations, officials, volunteers, sponsors, and the team at the FEI Headquarters, we have achieved a lot to move the organisation forward, to make it more modern, accountable, transparent, and financially sound. We have maintained our voluntary nature, which is our strength, and we have coupled it with a thoroughly professional conduct. This joint effort has allowed us to attract new sponsors and to secure the existing ones. However, the job is never done, there is still a lot to achieve and I will be tirelessly working to fulfil the pledges I made to our National Federations when I was re-elected in 2010 right through until I step down as FEI President in 2014.