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Eventing - the Olympic changes: New Zealanders fear dumbing down of their sport

Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance director Sarah Dalziell-Clout is calling the format change for the Olympic Games agreed by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) a 'real game-changer for eventing'. 

She is backed up by New Zealand's most capped Olympian, Sir Mark Todd - one of the country's Rio eventing team who are based near Marlborough.

New Zealand joined ten other nations in voting against the new proposals which cut the athletes in national teams from four to three and allows substitutions. The decision now goes to the IOC executive board for final approval next year.

“We voted against the proposed changes because of the detrimental effect it will have on the discipline of eventing,” says Dalziell-Clout. “While these changes have marginal impacts on jumping and dressage, the impact upon eventing is significant.”

Sir Mark Todd agrees: “The sport didn’t need changing or fixing, but this has been done to try and stay in the Olympics,” says Todd. “But it is disappointing the FEI didn’t pay attention to the opinion of the people involved in the sport. In the end the majority vote was for the change to three riders per team but most of that is from countries that have absolutely no sport representation at all.”

He felt it would be detrimental to the sport of eventing: “I can see a lot of younger people walking away – they will think they have a greater hope of making a team of four than three, so it may put them off.  Most people in eventing didn’t want the change – it changes the whole complexion of the sport.”

Todd said the changes would make eventing very confusing for those watching: “They said it was confusing to start with, but now you could end up with a team finishing with horses who have been eliminated . . . it makes a mockery of the sport.”

Dalziell-Clout agreed. “It is crazy – you can be eliminated in one phase but continue on providing your horse is sound. There’s also the suggestion of being able to substitute a combination between phases for ‘tactical reasons’ (with a penalty attached).”

She said the result was not surprising: “It is, however, disappointing the FEI didn’t split the vote between the disciplines – you can’t be voting on something that has such a different effect on eventing, jumping and dressage in a single vote – but we had too.”

Every nation had an equal counting vote despite not necessarily having any representation or interest in eventing. But, Dalziell-Clout went on to say she felt New Zealand riders are both skilled and very adaptable: “I am sure they will take on the challenge.”

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