By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
With less than three weeks for the International Equestrian Federation to draft the 2016 Olympic dressage qualifying system, North and South America have united behind a proposal to enable one nation to qualify at the World Equestrian Games and a second team at the Pan American Games.
The proposal by the Pan American Equestrian Confederation (PAEC) and backed by all 30 member nations would effectively reverse a move by the FEI to cut the number of teams from the Americas to one instead of the two that were allocated in recent Olympics.
The proposal for the highest ranked team from the Americas at the WEG in Normandy, France next year and a second team through the Pan American Games in Toronto in 2015 to qualify for the 2016 Games would mirror that proposed by the FEI for Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Oceania.
The FEI cut the number of teams from the Americas to one from two on the grounds that Brazil is hosting the Games in Rio de Janeiro that automatically allocates a place to its team so the FEI counted it as a slot for the Americas. Brazil’s place is not guaranteed–at least three combinations to make up a team have to obtain minimum qualifying scores–but that is unlikely to be an issue as so far this year six pairs have posted scores that would meet the minimum.
What the current FEI proposal means is that if no team from the Americas–Canada or the United States are the most likely contenders–finishes in the top four at WEG only one team can qualify through the Pan Ams so the likely result is that Canada or the U.S. will not go to Rio in 2016.
The FEI proposal presented to its Sports Forum in April was made at the same time as the number of dressage rider/horse combinations was increased to 60 at the 2016 Games compared with 50 in 2012 and 2008. One change it made over London and the 2008 Beijing Games was to increase teams up to a maximum of four horses and riders with only the best three results counting
The FEI proposal could increase European team representation by direct qualification to seven at Rio over London where five qualified directly, one place went to Great Britain as host and Poland produced a composite squad. The continent could take all four qualifying spots at next year’s WEG then add three from the 2015 European Championships.
The top ranked team from the Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia and Oceania bloc get a reserved place through the WEG and a second place at a FEI-approved qualifying event.
The proposal to come out of the FEI within the next three weeks will be drafted by the six-member FEI Dressage Committee headed by Frank Kemperman, who has been instrumental in overhauling judging and implementing other changes in the past five years, and the headquarters.
Proposals and comments from National Federations are being analyzed and discussed, he said.
“Coming up with a system that satisfies each and every Olympic Group will be challenging,” he told dressage-news.com, “but the FEI is committed to making a proposal which is fair to all parts of the world, in line with the Olympic Charter.”
The proposed system will be sent to national federations on Oct. 10 for their feedback and then discussed at a dedicated session which includes the Pan American Equestrian Confederation, the European Equestrian Federation and the Asian Equestrian Federation Nov. 5 before going to the FEI General Assembly for a vote on Nov. 7.
Mike Gallagher, president of Equine Canada, who has been the most outspoken of national federation leaders on the need to change the FEI proposal, sent a letter to the FEI supporting the PAEC proposal.
“Canada is especially concerned about the proposal for Team qualification in Dressage,” he wrote.
“Of all of the discussion points, we feel this one is the most serious. The best in the world will not qualify under this proposal nor is there any shred of universality as the result will be seven countries attending from Europe.
“The PAEC proposal offers a very simple solution which is identical to what has been offered to Group F & G (Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia and Oceania) by allowing the highest placed team at WEG from our region to qualify for the Games.
“We are extremely concerned that the changes that have been made to the qualifications result in decreased participation from North and South America in all three disciplines. No other region has been affected this negatively which can hardly be considered fair.
“We also are significantly concerned that the proposals for all three disciplines reduce the number of teams from our region based on the fact that Brazil is the host country. This is a ridiculous premise and historically we have never seen continental qualification levels reduced based on the Games being hosted in a particular region.
“We have been told that there is extensive consultation on these proposals. There has been significant feedback to the FEI regarding the Dressage Team qualifications. Dozens of letters have been written; almost all of the feedback on the FEI website was directed at the Dressage Team qualification and petitions with names of hundreds of athletes have been submitted.
“The reaction has been to not move one inch from the original position. This is not ‘consultation’ when the authors of the document seem to have no interest to listen or modify their proposal.”
The U.S. Equestrian Federation did not respond to questions from dressage-news.com whether it had separately supported the PAEC proposal.