I know I said I would be GDF blogging on Low-Down, but since my ‘conversation’ with Trond (aka Smartie) started here, I decided that for continunity’s sake I would wrap this up here (at least until the FEI GA next week, where I will be sure to have at least one chat with the FEI Dressage Director).
When I arrived at the Academy Bartels yesterday, quite literally the first person I bumped into was Trond, who was chatting with Joep Bartels. After hand shakes, I was subjected to some firm but polite chastisement for my oversight in reading the proposed Olympic qualifications, and inaccurate rendering of the facts on ‘The Punitive Games’ post. To be honest, I deserved it. Trond told me in so many words that he expected more of a journalist like myself, that I would have taken the time to read a document end-to-end before throwing any stones. And he’s right. But, like dressage judges, even muck rakers are human, and as I said in my post of Saturday (which I was told by the FEI media dept. did not qualify as per FEI policy as a ‘real’ correction), we all have to own up to a mistake here and there.
But back to yesterday at the GDF. As you might have predicted I did raise my hand when Trond finished his presentation, and as you might also have predicted, my question was about the Olympic qualifications. Trond had already given plenty of clarification on the details of the actual changes (both in his response to me on EuroDressage and in his presentation), but there remained one question that had stubbornly remained unanswered, by anyone in the FEI, in any discipline. So I asked it: how does the FEI rationalize the reduction of one guaranteed spot for the Americas? They have always claimed that it’s so that there wouldn’t be ‘too many’ teams from the Americas, but as this kind of ‘adjustment’ is unprecedented just saying it is so is not an explanation, at least not in my book. There are those would argue that the very fact that the next Olympics are in the Americas should encourage GREATER participation from the region, not stifling it through egregious changes to the qualifications. As I posed my question, I said that I realized this was a subject across the Olympic disciplines, not just dressage, and that I was asking not for Trond’s personal opinion but the FEI’s position. What I was trying to convey was that I was not ‘going after’ Trond personally, but since he represents the FEI, it was to him I must direct my question. I couldn’t type his response verbatim, since I was doing my best to be an eye-contact-making, engaged recipient of his answer, but here is the gist of it:
I had read out loud a quote from EC Prez Mike Gallagher in which Mike pointed out that, never in history, had the FEI altered ‘continental qualification levels reduced based on the Games being hosted in a particular region.” Trond’s response was that what happened in the past is not a valid argument against what the FEI decided to do this time. “We think it is fair we have guaranteed that the Americas still have two team slots,” he concluded.
I immediately started wriggling in my seat and reaching for the mike in Richard Davison’s hand like a baby after a cell phone, but Richard told me we could take it outside, meaning to question corner. Which we did. And that’s where it got interesting.
The question I had wanted to ask next was regarding the 2020 Tokyo Games, and that is what I asked Trond when we arrived at question corner, the place where discussions and questions unasked during the main forum could be asked. Based on what was being done to the Americas for 2016, could regions F and G expect the same treatment for 2020? As far as I can remember, his only response was that when the FEI decided to take away one Pan Am Olympic qualification, “we didn’t yet know that Tokyo would be getting the 2020 Olympics.” 100%. Totally. Irrelevant. To. The. Question.
Moving right along from that non-answer, I next came across an unscaleable wall of fundamental difference of, I don’t even know what to call it. Understanding? Logic? Definition of basic words like ‘opportunity’ and ‘guarantee’? I really tried yesterday to keep this interchange between me and the Smartie to the level of me challenging the FEI via its voice box. But our debate really got to the level of how Trond interprets reality and how I interpret it. I tried so hard to make him see the situation from the position of a country in the Americas. Saying the region has two guaranteed ‘slots’ for Rio fails to convey the fact that one ‘slot’ is not open to any, save Brazil, who get it automatically. Canada and the US are really fighting over one spot. Period. (Yes, Mexico and other Latin American countries, you are in the fight too, but maybe not so much)
Trond’s next argument (which I alluded to last week) was to say that the two new dedicated individual spots for the top individuals at GP level in Toronto give Canada a chance for a ‘composite’ team. I could write a book about the shortfalls of that prospect, but I’ll save it for another day (which will surely come, when these proposed qualifications pass with flying colours at next week’s FEI GA). But back to Trond’s and my philosophical head banging over ‘opportunity’ and ‘guarantee’. Regions F and G have two GUARANTEED team spots for Rio. The composite team prospect for the Americas is an OPPORTUNITY (one which F and G also have in addition to their GUARANTEED spots). According to Trond’s logic, the team spot that is already in the hands of Brazil counts as a guaranteed spot for the Americas. Also according to his logic, the opportunity for a country in the Americas to qualify a composite team of three keeps the playing field level with groups F and G, who have two guaranteed spots, neither of which has been already awarded to one country.
Question corner moderator Claartje van Andel of DressageDirect.com wrote on the white board behind our verbal boxing ring “Trond Asmyr and Karen Robinson fundamentally disagree over the definitions of ‘opportunity’ and ‘guarantee’. That about sums it up.
My focus is now on trying to learn whether other Olympic sports have similarly reduced qualification slots for the Americas for Rio 2016. It goes without saying I’ll be sharing what I uncover right here on this blog.
Just one question for you (feel free to leave your opinions as comments): what colour of Smartie is Trond?