Amazing Feats at The Winter Olympics, but What can The IOC learn from Equine Organisations?

As I sit watching the closing ceremony for the Winter Olympics, one is left marvelling at some of the amazing feats the athletes have achieved over the past 14 days. However, although nothing to do with equine sports, is there a lesson the IOC and other sporting bodies can learn from the way equine sport is governed? Like all summer and winter Olympics before these, there have been controversies, although this time the difficulties do seem to have been rather more poignant. Is it time for all sporting bodies to look at the rules surrounding ‘professional’ athletes as a result of questions raised at these Beijing winter Olympics?

The outside of the tube for tin trays and ice bob.

I will return to the Ice Dance/ Kamila Valieva saga later in this article, but first some of the sporting prowess shown during the games has been breath taking. It has always amazed me that anyone can be quite so brave or stupid as to travel at speeds of over 100 KM per hour down an ice tube on nothing more than a tin tray; although they do have rather more fancy names for the different modes of travel in the tube than a ‘tin tray’. Much the same goes for the Ice Bob. Fall off that at high speed, it appears that you will just slide down to the bottom of the tube with no control and with the dignity of a rag doll! As you dear reader can tell, this is not a sport in which I will be participating any time soon! One can only admire the determination and shear guts these unique adrenalin junkies have and provide us mere mortals with some exhilarating viewing.

On the ski slopes themselves, again we were treated to fantastic sports with competitors flying down through gates and other such obstacles in search of gold. The speed these guys go is astonishing. Another occupation I will not be trying any time soon. I do marvel at the speed and entertainment the sport can provide us arm chair critics and viewers.

The ski jump is another discipline you would never catch me trying.  The flying through the air at speed and height must give an adrenalin junky the ultimate thrill. Forget bungee jumping!!!! Yet again the games produced some awe inspiring performances.

As a ballet lover, it is maybe not surprising that Ice Dance in all its forms is my favourite winter spectacle. This Olympics however, the ice dance has been surrounded constantly by the sad controversy and spectacle of a fifteen year girl old disgraced and humiliated despite her undoubted and wonderful natural talent; Kamila Valieva from Russia.

Since the heady days of Torville and Deane in 1984 winning the Ice Dance Gold medal, the whole ice dance sport has changed beyond recognition. Firstly the scoring has changed and it is fair to say that the judging appears to be far more professional. The sport itself has moved on in an extraordinary way with dancers introducing more difficult and complicated jumps being completed. Another change seems to be how the age of the competitors has reduced with children being accepted as professionals and them having to shoulder all the responsibilities that involves.

This is my concern, and not only with the Olympic movement. It appears that all governing sporting bodies are more than happy to allow mere children compete at the highest levels without a thought for their well-being whether physical or mental – except one generally – our own equestrian sporting set up. The difference between equestrian sporting bodies, for example The FEI and other sporting governing bodies is in my opinion staggering.

Let’s take a close look at what actually happened in Beijing with fifteen year old Kamila Valieva? After producing a near perfect performance for the Russian Team in the first part of the ice dance competition, it was announced that Kamila had tested positive for a banned substance in a recent doping test. Then, there was a debate as to whether this fifteen year old child should be allowed to continue for the rest of the elements of the ice dance – and quite clearly she should not have been allowed to carry on. Why? Simple, all athletes, in whatever sport they are competing in should be able to do so with the knowledge that all the participants are drug enhanced free and they are doing so on a ‘level playing field’. Clearly allowing this girl to continue, this was not the case. Then there was the mental well-being of Kamila herself. Would she be mentally scarred for life if she was turfed out; for a misdemeanour over which at such a tender age, she would have had no control. Quite clearly, her coaches and mentors were responsible for this and the way Kamila was treated after her diabolical performance in the long free ice dance competition was frankly a disgrace. Whether we will ever see the wonderful talents of Kamila Valieva again remains to be seen.

In general, all sports need to look at their governing bodies and the rules by which they participate. Equine federations have a much better system in comparison. They have international competition for ponies, juniors and young riders which mean that not only do younger competitors have the opportunity to compete at the high international level, but they also gain valuable experience both physically and mentally, and learn how to cope with disappointment as well as elation of success. It is very rare in equine sport to see a person under eighteen years old competing at the very top level in adult competition, and this is a good thing. This should be the case for all international sport. There should be a rule, in our opinion, that no-one under the age of eighteen should be allowed to compete in top adult sport in any sport, including tennis. If athletes are talented and can go to the very top, then as children, they should be cosseted and looked after which in turn will offer them a much longer life in their chosen sport and stop them burning out in their early twenties. Look at equestrianism, riders are able to compete into their late forties and even up to their sixties. I hope all other sports look at the way we run equine competition and follow our excellent example.

image courtesy Print.IN

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