About the Olympic’s format changes

This week Tokyo, the chosen city for 2020 Olympic Games, played host to the FEI General Assembly that decided changes for Dressage and Para-Dressage.



At the 2016 General Assembly, a number close to 300 delegates representing 76 of the FEI’s 134 National Federations gathered to conclude a two-year consultation process about proposed changes to the three Olympic Equestrian disciplines. Delegates were able to debate the issues for one final time on Monday 21 November before voting the following day.

There were three main results of the voting which under the new proposals would cause the following:
– The number of athletes in national teams will be reduced to three, this is the same for Dressage, Eventing, Show Jumping and the Paralympic discipline of Para Dressage.
– The drop score, which previously allowed for a team’s worst score to be discarded, will be removed
– The use of a reserve combination for teams will remain in place, but will be even more important and be will a key element in ensuring horse welfare

107 National Federations were represented at the General Assembly, with 31 of those voting by proxy. A total of 11 National Federations voted against the proposals affecting all equestrian sports. Amongst these were a couple of dressage giants and key players in the sport, Germany and the Netherlands. The other nations opposing the changes were – Albania, Bulgaria, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Romania and Switzerland.

Britain was the only National Federation to vote against the proposed changes to the Paralympic format.

Whilst voting on the sport-specific proposals for the individual equestrian Olympic disciplines was unanimously in favour.

In detail

Further to the three large outcomes previously mentioned, the list of proposed changes for dressage includes several interesting features.

In the Grand Prix test, there would be an introduction of the so-called ‘heat system’ incorporating the ‘lucky losers’ idea. To work alongside the heat system, riders will be classified into six groups ranked from A to F. This then allows 18 individuals to qualify for Grand Prix to Grand Prix Freestyle by taking the top two from each of the six heats, plus the next six from the best overall results.

For the team competition, the eight best teams (out of 24 starters) from the Grand Prix qualify for the Grand Prix Special and battle for the medals. This leads on to another important change; the team medals would be solely decided on results from the Grand Prix Special as opposed to combining the scores from the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special tests.

The Grand Prix Special would also see another drastic change… It will be ridden to music. However this doesn’t turn the test into a freestyle as all competitors will still ride the same set test. There will also be no marks awarded for the music despite competitors being allowed to choose what tunes they ride to. The introduction of the music is to make the competition more attractive to spectators and TV viewers.

One of the key changes incorporating all of the above is the order of the tests. The proposed concepts place Test One (The Grand Prix) over the two first days of competition. Test Two is listed as the Grand Prix Freestyle and Test Three as the Grand Prix Special. Traditionally the Olympic Games have seen the Freestyle as the final test with the team medals decided before the individual medals. The new format sees the Individual Final before the Team Final.


Paralympics In detail

One of the major changes to the Paralympic format is the rule proposal allowing each directly qualified team to bring only four horse/athlete combinations. All four athletes will compete as individuals, of which three will have to be declared to compete on the team after the Individual Championship test. This reduces the number of spots available to para dressage riders as previously five riders attended the games with four contributing to the team competition.

For nations not represented by a team there are allowed to be two individual competitors, reflecting the same change as with Olympic Dressage which allows only one individual from a no-team nation. For both Olympic and Paralympic Dressage there are no composite teams allowed.

The Paralympic Dressage continues to reflect the proposed changes to Olympic Dressage surrounding the form, order and use of the tests. The team medals will now be decided solely on results of the team test, so no longer a combination of team and individual test scores. The team test will also be set to music as with the Grand Prix Special. The individual test will be ridden first, followed by the team test and finally the freestyle to music. The top eight riders per grade in the Individual tests will qualify for their respective Freestyle Finals.

As previously mentioned Britain was the sole nation to vote against the changes to the number of riders allowed per nation. Clare Salmon of the BEF said, “When it came to the Para-Equestrian Dressage changes, we took a different view to protect the principle of elite competition for Paralympic sport. While we understand and appreciate the desire to have a consistent approach across all four disciplines, we did not think that the Olympic format was entirely appropriate for the Paralympics as well. In Para-Equestrian Dressage, there are five grades, with five individual medal winning opportunities, and we feel strongly that the best athletes in the world should be able to compete in each grade. By imposing a maximum of four athletes per nation, this inadvertently undermines the Paralympic ideal by diluting the quality of competition, given the grade structure. Our decision was not about Great Britain acting in self-interest, but came from a desire to ensure that the Paralympics will always feature the best of the best.”

Jason Brautigam from British Dressage, who travelled with the British delegation to make a positive case for the fifth place at the Paralympics, added; “We will be continuing our discussions with the Para-Equestrian Committee and IPC post GA to ensure that the qualification criteria includes a provision for the reallocation of unused quota places that will enable the top ranked athletes in each grade to still compete in future Games.”

Why change?

The key reasons for changing the formats within the Equestrian category is to adapt the sport to agree with the Olympic Agenda 2020 – the strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement. The changes to the disciplines are designed to increase universality, one of the main requirements under Olympic Agenda 2020.

After the debate held on Monday 21 November, FEI President Ingmar De Vos explained, ‘Olympic Agenda 2020 obliges us to focus on an increase in the number of participating nations within the existing quote. It is of course our role to get more National Federations to compete at the top level and offer them an avenue for development.’ He continued, ‘we need to increase the number of participating nations at the Olympic Games but within our existing quote of 200.’ Referring to the changes in team numbers De Vos said, ‘reducing team members to three per nation was probably the only way to boost the number of flags. It opens the door to countries that previously could only see the Olympics as a distant dream’.

The proposals also aim to make the equestrian events more readily understandable and packaged in a more compact format, engaging new fans though an enhanced presentation of the sport.

One of the other important features behind the changes was horse welfare, this was a subject strongly emphasized throughout the General Assembly. On this topic, De Vos said “with the growth of our sport grows also our responsibility to continuously ensure the welfare of our athletes in order to safeguard the integrity of the sport at all times.” He continued, “There are organisations – increasing in number – that are of the opinion that horses should not be competed or even ridden! We need to show them – and the world – that we are not only dedicated to horse welfare but that we are the leaders in that domain. And we also need to educate – to show just how much we do and how committed the equestrian community is to horse welfare. Ignorance creates fear. So we need to show that a true partnership is about trust and respect so that we can bridge that gap and bring people closer to our sport.” Welfare continues to be a topic that often brings equestrian sport into the mainstream limelight and with the new proposals focusing on improving this, it can be assured that the change is a positive one.

Discussing the British view in relation to the reasons for change Clare Salmon from the BEF commented, “The British Equestrian Federation, including the three member bodies representing Olympic equestrian sports, believed that the proposed format changes, specifically for the Olympic Games, are necessary to evolve our sports and ensure that they remain relevant, exciting and engaging for as wide an audience as possible. Although we acknowledge that not all of these changes will be universally popular with our stakeholders, we do believe it was an important move to secure our long term future in the Olympic programme.”

What happens next?

These proposals are not final and there are several more important dates in the calendar for the finalization of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Formats. Moving forward, the FEI-approved proposal will now go to the IOC Executive Board for final approval. Listed below are the dates to look out for and their purpose in the proceedings:

– February 2017 – proposals go to the IOC Executive Board
– May 2017 – the IOC Programme Commission make recommendations to the IOC Executive Board
– July 2017 – the IOC Executive Board decides on the events and quotas
– November 2017 – the next FEI General Assembly takes places in Montevideo, Uruguay, here the proposal for qualification procedures will be finalized

source: British Dressage