Keeping Dressage in the Olympics

Dec. 14, 2014 – In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of speculation and talk about the Olympic committee’s plan to discuss removing dressage from the 2020 Games.

My initial response was, “Are they insane?” Once I started breathing again, I wanted to look at the reasoning and arguments. I saw online and have heard a wide range of opinions on this, from “oh they say this every year but it never happens” to discussions on if dressage is really a sport or a skill. I did find that even if dressage was debated every year previously for elimination it was not a Class D sport so it wasn’t eligible for elimination.

This meant that in previous “talk,” nothing could have been done. However, dressage was downgraded to Class D. So this should send us some reality signals. First, it actually now can be eliminated. Second, the powers that be downgraded it in spite of some of the facts about dressage. For example, I have read that attendance at dressage events has shown continual growth.

This can mean that the IOC’s decision may not be based upon profit or popularity of a sport but upon some other factors.

I then read the mission statement of the IOC for the Olympic Games. The IOC states they desire to encourage gender and ethnic equality in their competitions. If their mission is to promote these goals then they have no solid argument to remove any equestrian sports: as we have all noted so often, equestrian sports are the only Olympic event where men and women compete directly head to head. There are no women’s or men’s divisions. How more gender neutral can you get than that? So if this is truly a priority of the IOC, we must increase equestrian events and add disciplines like reining and vaulting.

If their goal is ethnic representation, 41 nations representing all continents competed in dressage in the London Olympics. Only 12 countries were represented in basketball, which is a highly publicized sport. From the Plains Indians to the Argentine gaucho to the Mongolian Kerait horse tribe to the Middle Eastern Arabian horse breed, every area of the globe has a horse culture and tradition. 132 nations are members of the Federation Equestrian International. The International Skiing Federation, which serves all skiing events, only has 110!

Another concern being discussed is the nature of dressage as a skill and not an athletic sport. Arguments point to the age of our athletes and the years it takes to develop as proof that athleticism is not a key factor. However, if you look at the increasingly younger age of our top competitors and the swelling number of those young stars, it has become obvious that like all athletic competitions in the last few decades we are becoming more and more demanding and competitive. This increased level then requires every ounce of extra strength, stamina, and physicality. For example, in some sports like basketball, the players have become taller over the years. In some like football, they are larger and faster. This is true of all sports pushing the edge and increasing in their demands on competitors. We see this in equestrian sports not only in our riders but in our equine partners. Horses that scored in the 70’s or 80’s decades ago would not do so now.

Furthermore, with the longer competition life span of our riders, “health” is a lifestyle, not a short-term competition goal. Another stated directive of the IOC is to promote athlete health. Our riders show another aspect of competitive sports health which broadens the nature and length of promoted health issues for athletes.

Another stated mission of the IOC and the Olympic games is to promote sports that service humanity and promote peace as well as responsibility to the environment. Again, if the stated issues of the IOC are the reality of their goals, then equestrian sports should be at the top of the list to be funded! Our equine partners make our sport unique in its environmental and humanitarian nature. Horses serve as therapy horses. Horses give their human partners an insight into the minds of nature and teach us so many valuable lessons about life. They teach us responsibility for those dependent upon us. They teach us compassion, love and empathy. They teach us all of these lessons and so many more we have all discussed a thousand times. These lessons are another of the IOC’s stated goals to blend sport with culture and education.

So having addressed all of the stated goals of the IOC and how equestrian sports as a whole and dressage in particular meet and exceed them, I now call upon phase two of the plan. Let’s all write to the IOC. One thing I have learned hanging out in my childhood in university political science departments is the power of the grassroots contact. The more people we get to contact the IOC directly and to point out the benefits of our sports, the better! Perhaps they don’t know these things. Perhaps all they perceive of dressage is a bunch of elitists in and expensive sport dressing up in outdated fashions prancing around on trained ponies. (Trust me we have all heard all or part of that many times).

We need them to know that we aren’t all wealthy, that we do appeal to broad audiences. That little girls and boys who don’t own horses but dream of riding want to watch and are inspired. We need to broaden and change as an industry or we will never grow beyond our niche. When our niche is no longer supported by anything other than those inside that little group, we will all be held hostage to it.

The address for the IOC is Chateau de Videy, Case Postale356, 1001 Lausanne, Switzerland. Please write in and let them know you don’t want dressage cut out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. You can talk about so many things:

-How our sport promotes ethics
-How our sport promotes women at all levels of play
-How our sport educates the youth through spirit of fair play
-How our sport is at service to humanity and promotes peace
-How our sport is against any forms of discrimination
-How our sport promotes the health of athletes
-How our sport is responsible on environmental issues
-How our sport blends sport with culture and education

These are all the stated goals of the IOC and the Olympic Games. Let’s take away any argument they might have now or in the future to eliminate us! I am mailing my letter today.

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