Photo: GCL / Sam Walravens
A total of 18 teams will be on the starting grid for the 2017 Global Champions League season as the world's top riders gear up for 15 events packed with top sport. Set against the backdrop of the Tops International Arena in Valkenswaard, The Netherlands, Jan Tops (President and Co-Owner Longines Global Champions Tour and Co-Founder, Global Champions League), Frank McCourt (Co-Owner, Longines Global Champions Tour and Co-Founder, Global Champions League) welcomed media to an open forum to discuss the recent FEI approval for the GCL Series, the growth of show jumping and opportunities for riders. The pair were joined by FEI President Ingmar De Vos, who was on hand to answer media questions from the FEI perspective.
Opening the forum, Jan Tops said: “Last year we started with 12 teams for the GCL, and it is our goal to be innovative also for the riders. We bring different countries together, a bigger platform globally - not only nationally concentrated. We have the vision to explore our sport for bigger fans and bigger audiences - this is our big drive.”
With the announcement that 18 teams would now take part in the 2017 season Championship, he continued: “the interest from team owners has increased - we went from 12 teams to 18 teams this year, which I think is fantastic and gives the opportunity for many riders to compete."
Talking about the new GCL format, as approved by the FEI, Jan spoke of the fierce rivalry and team tactics combining with top sport: “every leg will be like a Championship. We have the best and it’s been chosen by the team managers that only two riders have to compete, which also makes it low stress on the horses and riders. The horses won’t be over-jumped. We found a good working relation this year for the horses.”
"You can change your horse from the first day to the second day. You can change the rider. We have three riders normally on the event, you only need to use two so you can have one different rider if you want to as well. It’s more exciting, like a football team. You have more vibrance. We have a big story to tell to our audience - it can be totally different from one day to another.”
Jan spoke of the importance for show jumping of continuing to evolve and move forward to build a strong and sustainable future for the sport in the modern world. He said top riders have the opportunity to be on teams in the GCL and to earn points and significant prize money like other sports. Opportunities for young riders to develop the grassroots of the sport will also be a key focus for GCL: “Now in the GCL we will have about 30% under-25 riders which is a positive turnout and it was a thought-through process for us to do this.”
With the sport going through a period of growth with around 1,500 jumping events in the calendar, FEI President Ingmar De Vos spoke of further growth ahead for the sport globally: “I am confident if all of us work together, National Federations, organisers, athletes and owners we will be able to make it much stronger than today.”
Jan Tops agreed, saying: “We are doing everything best for the sport and I’m sure there is a great future. I am very happy the FEI agreed with our vision and 99% of the riders I speak with are fantastically happy.” As well as providing opportunities for the next generation of show jumping talent, almost 50% of the top 100 ranked riders in the world will take part in the GCL competition this season. With the evolution of show jumping and the positive effect of the GCL on the opportunities given to the athletes, Jan also stressed that riders will always have the freedom to compete in events of their choice even if there is a clash with Nations Cup schedules. He said: “That is why we made the rule that at any time [the Chef D'Equipe] can take the riders, I don’t see a problem.”
Ingmar De Vos spoke of the commitment from the FEI to grow the sport and make it even more successful by working with organisers. But he stated that the FEI would need to “respect anti-trust legalisation” and would not give unfair anti-competitive advantages to FEI properties like the Nations Cup and World Cup series. Talking of the agreement reached between GCL and the FEI, which is fully aligned with FEI rules and regulations, he said: "We are a governing body and we need to be open and listen to questions from our stakeholders.”
Frank McCourt, GCL Co-Founder and a leading US business figure with wide experience in sport, emphasised the importance for show jumping to continue to modernise and move forward in the competitive modern sports landscape. He spoke of the agreement with the FEI for GCL and said: “Happily we came to terms and can move the sport forward. We want to make sure the changes are positive and constructive to make sure the sport thrives and survives.
"I’ve never seen change occur where everybody is happy - it takes time to adjust. This agreement was done in the context of a legal matter because we wanted to grow our sport, and we had a disagreement. Within that context an agreement was reached, and happily, because we wanted the FEI to be involved.”
With GCL adding a new dimension to team competition and innovating the way in which fans are able to follow and support the top athletes around the world, GCL spoke of plans to add new features to inform and entertain new and existing fans with improved production and digital and social media innovation to grow audiences around the world. Frank further expanded during the open forum on the innovation saying: “Technology is evolving and digital media is basically taking over the means and methods of communicating. It is part of the evolution of the sport in a world that is changing very rapidly.”
And with the growth of the sport there are bigger opportunities for all, with new investors, higher prize money and greater return on investment for all stakeholders involved. Ingmar De Vos also pointed out that sponsored teams are "not new” and have existed for many years.
Top Dutch athlete Maikel van der Vleuten (NED), who previously competed for the 2016 GCL team, Monaco Aces agreed: “I did the whole series last year and I really have the feeling the riders are really enjoying this new format. I am also very proud to be in a team for next year. It has been a great development for all the riders and owners in the sport. My priority is to do GCT and GCL and to have the opportunity to do the Nations Cup. We are free to make our own choices.”
As the LGCT and GCL look to the 2017 15-event season, set against some of the most iconic and unique destinations in the world, including Miami Beach, London, Berlin, Rome, Shanghai, Paris and Doha, the scene for an enthralling Championship battle has been set.
Further information on the GCL riders will be announced soon.