Oct. 28th UPDATE here.
Remember the hue and cry that erupted after the FEI discipline committees unveiled their proposed modifications to the Olympic qualifications for Rio 2016? It all started back in the spring at the FEI Sports Forum. The greatest outrage was caused by the proposed changes to the dressage qualifications, though eventing was in a close second (for background if you need a refresher you can read or re-read my Canada Day post). Now that the FEI GA is approaching, the FEI has sent out to its members a lengthy set of documents outlining the details of what will go to the vote at the GA in Montreux, Switzerland in November. I’m not sure if it was meant to be accessible to the wider public, but since it is, I availed myself of the link to the Olympic qualifications (it’s the second-to-last item) to see if anything had changed since the Sports Forum (and the resulting expressions of dismay from the Americas). Lo and behold, the qualifications HAVE changed. For the worse.
Remember those mean school teachers who would ask the class to vote on whether they would like to visit the park or the pulp mill on their next field trip (yes, where I come from, there were actual field trips to the pulp mill)? Then, after the kids voted overwhelmingly to go to the park, the teacher announced they would all be going to the pulp mill. Well, that’s just about how the FEI Dressage Committee has treated the input they received following the proposed changes to the Olympic qualifications at the Sports Forum. Here are the deets:
The crux of the problem for the Americas was the reduction of qualification spots gained at the Pan Am Games from two places to one in both dressage and eventing. The main reason this looks less dire for Canada’s eventers is because Canada won silver at the last WEG in that discipline, and because eventing also proposed to increase the number of team qualifications at WEG 2014 from five to six. The dressage changes were somewhat more devastating for Canada’s prospects. The FEI DC proposed reallocating the former Pan Am team qualification by increasing the WEG qualifications to four from three. But given Canada’s world champ dressage results of the past 25 years, the additional WEG qualification adds diddly squat. Hence, the aforementioned hue and cry. So you know what the FEI DC did when they heard how unhappy (mainly) Canada and (also) the rest of the Americas were about this proposal? They made it even more punitive against the region.
Here are the latest dressage ‘modifications’ going into the vote at the FEI GA:
1. even though dressage will get an increased quota of horses from 50 to 60, the proposal is to REDUCE the number of ‘directly qualified’ teams from 11 to 10. This will make dressage the discipline with the fewest guaranteed team spots. Way to globalize, FEI DC.
2. the proposal to increase the WEG qualifications from three to four has been cancelled. Only three spots will be given away in Normandy. That means dressage gives away as many Olympic qualifications at the EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS as it does at the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. Can you say Eurocentric, FEI DC?
3. on the WEG qualifications, there is one thing that stays from the earlier proposal: for FEI Groups F and G (Africa, Middle East, South East Asia, Oceania – in other words, Australia) and the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (none of which has ever had even an individual in WEG dressage), the top placed team in Normandy FROM THESE REGIONS ALONE will get a spot for Rio. That is a dedicated qualification for a team from that group of regions, regardless of their results at WEG in relation to the rest of the world. In addition, all those countries will have a second chance to qualify for Rio at an ‘FEI approved special qualification event’. The nugget of meaning to the way dressage’s nether regions are being treated compared to the Americas is this: The Americas have only one guaranteed spot for Rio, while the nethers have two. Here’s a financial analogy that exposes another reality: It’s like the FEI DC is ‘the one percent’, redistributing wealth by taking away from the middle class to give to the poor through programs the poor don’t qualify for – with the result that the money goes into the coffers of ‘the one percent’.
4. When number three above is pointed out to someone like FEI Dressage Director Trond Asmyr, he will reply that because the Olympics are in Rio, and Brazil has an automatic team spot, there is an ‘imbalance’ in the number of Olympic spots being allocated to the Americas. Besides the hole in that argument that you could drive a horse trailer through (there was no such ‘rebalancing’ done for London to prevent Europe from having too many guaranteed spots), here is the final nail in the Americas’ coffin that makes Trond’s argument utterly fatuous. The proposal at the Sports Forum included the following line beneath the allocation of one spot to the host nation, Brazil: “if not used – the place will be allocated to the best placed from Group D or E from the Pan Am Games”. In the proposal going to the vote at the FEI GA, that line has been replaced with: “In case the host nation is unable to field a team it may send 1 or 2 eligible individuals instead.” (This rather meaningful bit of linguistic gymnastics has also been imposed on eventing). The removal of the Pan Am reallocation is perhaps the most telling piece of evidence that the FEI DC definitely didn’t ignore the pleas from the Americas. They deliberately took action to further disadvantage the region. Way to sock it to us, FEI DC.
5. the decrease in the number of ‘directly qualified’ teams from 11 to 10, combined with the increased number of horses from 50 to 60, will result in the greatest number of individual qualifications in Olympic dressage history. The FEI DC will surely argue that the opportunity to qualify ‘composite’ teams through qualifying three or more individuals gives the Americas plenty of opportunity to get to Rio. Smoke and mirrors. The only composite teams that have got to the Olympics since I started paying attention have been from European countries. The ‘rebalancing’ act conducted by the FEI DC will inevitably result in more Europeans and fewer Americans (I am talking Americas, not USA). The fat kid wins again, thanks to the FEI DC.
In order for the proposed changes to the Olympic qualifications to be passed, there must be a two-thirds majority that votes in favour. There are 30 FEI member nations from North, Central and South America. Even if all 30 of them say ‘nay’, these changes are almost certain to sail through unhindered. What a travesty.