The FEI has announced planned changes to its flagship Nations Cup series as of next year.
FEI president HRH Princess Haya announced at the FEI Sports Forum in Geneva that the Saudi Equestrian Fund has offered to provide full financial support for the 2012 series and has also agreed to a five-year sponsorship.
However, there are concerns over some of the improvements suggested, which include replacing the current league system with a knock-out competition, where any country can take part.
This would see the middle East, eastern Europe, China and south America, who are all relative newcomers to the sport of showjumping, competing on a world class stage against the top nations.
The British leg of the FEI Nations Cup is held at the All England Jumping Course, Hickstead. Lizzie Bunn, director of Hickstead, is concerned how this new format will affect the standards of the competition.
“Everyone recognises that things needed to change as the current Top League is so Eurocentric, particularly now that the USA is out,” she says. “However, allowing all nations to take part, without a qualifying round, will dumb down the sport. I don’t believe you can put Britain and Holland against riders from nations like Turkey and Azerbaijan. They simply won’t be good enough, and people come to the Royal International to watch top riders.”
The knock-out system also means that only seven shows could potentially be involved worldwide, which means that existing venues may not have the opportunity to host future competitions.
“The FEI should consider bringing in another tier and have a selection process, whereby nations qualify to compete against the bigger nations – just as they do with football’s FA cup,” says Lizzie. “You could then hold the quarter finals and semis at some of the existing Top League venues, like Hickstead and Aachen.”
For any showground to lose such a prestigious event could have a disastrous affect on sponsorship. In addition, the new rules state that Nations Cup shows won’t be able to run a Grand Prix at the same time. This is another class that attracts big names and big sponsors.
“I agree we need to make the Nations Cup more global, but the current suggestions need a huge amount of tweaking and discussion,” says Lizzie. “The Nations Cup is our most important team competition, and it needs to be thought out. There has to be a better way of bringing these new nations in.”