The NGB Controversy

On January 29, 2001 the AHSA hosted a conference call for its Board of Directors as well as other key individuals in the equestrian community, including representatives of the USET and of the USOC. The purpose of the call was to discuss the present situation of responding ...On January 29, 2001 the AHSA hosted a conference call for its Board of Directors as well as other key individuals in the equestrian community, including representatives of the USET and of the USOC. The purpose of the call was to discuss the present situation of responding ...

Story originally posted by: Diana De RosaHorseCity.com Free-Lance Writer

On January 29, 2001 the AHSA hosted a conference call for its Board of Directors as well as other key individuals in the equestrian community, including representatives of the USET and of the USOC. The purpose of the call was to discuss the present situation of responding to the USOCs mandate that the duties of an NGB, as outlined by the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, must be performed by one governing body, rather than the way it works now where the AHSA has the title of NGB but shares those duties with the USET.

SOLVING THE PROBLEM

When the USOC first told both the AHSA and the USET that they needed to solve the current situation a Strategic Planning Initiative (SPI) task force of 20 key horse people was set up. "We met over a period of four days from November to January," explained former AHSA president and Three-Day Olympic veteran James Wofford. "The end result is that there are two philosophical proposals," he added. An over simplification of these proposals is that one unites the two groups into one USA Equestrian with subsidiary categories allowing the AHSA and USET to continue to function underneath one unified board, while the other turns the title of NGB over to the USET. Once these two plans were put forth it was decided that everyone would reach out to get a general feeling of what is best for equestrian sport as a whole and then the SPI would decide which plan to present to the USOC for the February 1 deadline.

However, in a recent meeting by the USET, unbeknownst to what the SPI and the AHSA had anticipated, a vote was taken in favor of going forward to the USOC as of the February 1 deadline with their USET proposal rather than allow the SPI to have the final vote. AHSA President Alan Balch noted, "The AHSA’s understanding was that neither organization would vote. Rather than dwell on the past we need to look to our procedure for the future."

DISCUSSIONS, DEBATES AND DECISIONS

In doing the outreach to present the two proposals and then getting the feedback it was clear that two key issues needed to be addressed more clearly in both proposals: financial and transition.

"The financials of course are a concern, but they are equally a concern in either document," explained Wofford. "I think that a plan that spreads out the sport is better than one that is concentrated." During the conference call it was mentioned that at the last board meeting of the USET in late 2000 the budget showed that the USET had a deficit of $2 million, which shows that even in its present situation raising the necessary funds is not easy.

Armand Leone, who has been instrumental in designing the USET’s proposal, indicated that 130 active athletes had voted in favor of the USET proposal. However, after further discussion it became clear that these athletes might not have had all the facts. In fact, Olympic dressage veteran Carol Lavell, who voted in favor of the USET proposal, indicated that she had done so because of the way the vote was worded. She did not realize her vote was being cast for one proposal over the other but rather the concept of unifying the sport under one organization. Carol indicated if she had realized she was voting for the USET and against the AHSA proposal she would not have voted yes, because, like many others, she feels she needs more facts. Lavell along with Dressage Olympic veteran Michael Poulin also shared their concern that they were not given enough notice to be a part of the USET meeting and felt that communication was lacking from the USET to its membership. "Many of us have been left out," added Poulin, "and I don’t know why."

Owner Sheila Johnson had been at the USET meeting and commented, "I was taken by surprise by the athletes voting decision. As a board member I felt really boxed in. I think that there are some real fairness issues. I did not realize a vote was going to be taken that day. I thought we were just reviewing what had been happening over the past month. All the athletes present voted in favor of the USET and then they took a vote from the Board. I had to vote on the side of the USET because I felt boxed in. It was unfair the way it was doneÉI am really worried about the future of this sport. People need to sit back and study what is happening."

Johnson in another conversation noted, "I’ve been involved for eight years now and what I have seen going on in this sport has really been very agenda oriented towards certain individuals and it is unfair. It is unfair to every athlete and young athlete that is coming up in this sport. The bickering that is going on between the AHSA and the USET is uncalled for. People need to sit back and really study what’s happened. Even the athletes feel that if they go against a certain organization they are not going to make the Olympic team. We have to clean up this sport in order to make it work. They can Alan Balch bash all they want but this man is smarter than anybody and he is clearly trying to make this work. I am not saying I am for the AHSA or for the USET, but I think Alan in representing the AHSA has been as fair about this as possible."

When Three-Day Olympic Gold Medalist David O’Connor heard the number 130, he wanted some clarification. "I’d love to know how many athletes signed up not from the USET. There are approximately 3900-4000 athletes that are directly involved with the developing level or the elite level." O’Connor was concerned that those who voted did not represent a cross section of all sports nor did they represent the grassroots level of rider, which is important to the development of future Olympic athletes. O’Connor supports combining the two organizations into one unified organization.

O’Connor further noted that over the past few days, even weeks, he’s been inundated with phone calls based on the vote requested of the USET by the active athletes, which have made it clear to him that "the athletes feel like they do not have enough information to vote." Show jumping Olympic veteran Laura Kraut agreed with O’Connor. While down in Florida competing she has been bombarded with comments and from those she noted " I am in agreement with David that they are not as informed as they should be."

It was further made clear that the USET has had communication with the USOC that the AHSA was not aware of. "There are any number of private communications, even secret, that we did not see prior to today," explained Balch.

Those who spoke in favor of the USET proposal did so by speaking a lot about the elite athletes and the importance of maintaining their ability to win medals. Those who spoke in favor of the joint proposal made it clear that they felt the USET proposal leaned towards the elite athletes and left out the bread and butter of the sport. AHSA Treasurer, Kathy Meyer noted, "It comes down to asking one fundamental question: do we consider what we do, regardless of discipline, do we consider ourselves part of the equestrian sport and that all benefit by the concept that this is one sport. Several members of the SPI continue to believe that consolidation is in the best interest of the sport. One organization and one governing body would better serve the sport. We need to be unified by a single governance that is not exclusive."

Vice President Judith Werner added, "It would be very short sited to become isolationists. We are all one. Many of us came from many disciplines."

Well known course designer Linda Allen in another discussion commented, "I feel strongly that if we are to be successful in developing our sport into all I believe it could be, it is not going to happen through becoming more exclusionary or by concentrating most of the energy on the current elite.

"As someone who believes that a major reorganization has been overdue for some time now –since, thankfully, our sport has grown well beyond its old way of doing things — I really hope to see a framework come out of this where all horsepeople can feel they are at least a small part of the team. That is the way to greater success at every level of our sport: integration, and not separation. ‘Fences make good neighbors’ might be true; unless you build the fence and then find you wish the neighbor that you closed out would care about contributing to what’s happening on your side of the fence!"

O’Connor added, "I believe there is a lot more chance for fundraising and national unity if it is under one unit. I think there is a lot more opportunity to reach out to all of the disciplines."

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

While much discussion continued it was made clear that the AHSA will ask for more time to prepare due to the recent developments and the private correspondence that has been going on with the USET and the USOC.

photo: jumping No caption was contained in the photo file

Those in favor of the USET proposal don’t feel it is wise to ask for more time. Olympic Dressage Medalist Robert Dover feels a delay would not be good. In speaking for the AHSA, Balch noted "We think that more time is needed to educate everybody to make sure they are well informed. We believe there is a lot more information out there that needs to be heard." In response Dover noted, "An indecision at this point is still a decision, if we remain in oppositionÉThey (the USOC) are going to resolve this if we don’t."

In speaking for the AHSA as the present NGB, Balch indicated that the organization will now proceed on its own and will bring one or more proposals forward to the USOC, which could include not only their joint proposal but a proposal that suggests that the AHSA continue in its present capacity incorporating within its framework all the duties of the NGB. While Balch did not specifically say this was the plan, he indicated that the Board would decide the best way to proceed for the good of the sport.

In closing Balch noted that it is the belief of the AHSA that the USOC wants an NGB that demonstrates it has a "clear line from the grassroots to the pinnacle of the sport. Criticism of the AHSA proposal is that it is too big and doesn’t focus enough on the elite athletes. We feel we will make a case that it will make it betterÉWe are going to proceed with what we believe is in the best interest of the sport."

When asked what the next step was, Balch noted that they would present their plan on February 1 or shortly after. "Then on February 24th the USOC membership and credentials committee meets and will then tell us what the next step is."