The Elitloppet meeting 2019 has now drawn to a close! For me, personally, it is proof of how fantastic trotting can be, and of what we can accomplish together with regard to boosting trotting on the international stage.
Looking back on the development of our fantastic sport over the years, it is clear that we have faced – and are facing – a great many challenges. While it is not easy to draw any general conclusions, we can probably state with some confidence that breeding is in decline and that the number of horses is decreasing; moreover, the cost of owning and looking after horses is on the rise and it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit young people to our sport. In Europe, we are currently battling to secure financing for the sport, i.e. to ensure that a part of the gaming revenue is ploughed back into trotting in the respective countries.
Two factors which are absolutely crucial to the credibility and long-term survival of the sport we love are:
- Horse welfare! We must do everything within our power to establish regulations to ensure that we treat horses with all due care and attention. People outside our sport will never accept trotting if they see us treating the horses improperly.
- Gaming security and competing on equal terms, which means making sure our races are neither fixed nor rigged.
The theme for this year’s conference is “Change”! The idea here is for us to challenge ourselves; we need to think along new lines and devote some thought to what will be required of us in the future. It is extremely easy to look back and attempt to defend things that once were. However, I am convinced that we need to look to the future – what will be required of us if we are to be an attractive sport in, say, five or ten years? What do we need to change? How can we attract young people to our sport? What is required of our arenas? What changes do we need to make to our sport? These are some of the questions I hope and believe we will be tackling over the coming week.
As regards the content and expectations for the next few days, I would like to highlight the following:
- Horse welfare, anti-doping measures and – perhaps most importantly of all – the issue of how we use the horsewhip during races. We simply have to harmonise the rules in this area more clearly. I am well aware of the cultural differences that apply around the world, but we must establish significantly more restrictive rules at global level if we are to maintain acceptance for our sport. There is still a great deal to be done in this particular area. It is quite simply a matter of survival!
- Horse ownership: what can we do to promote opportunities for, and interest in, owning a horse?
- Financing of the sport: how do we make sure that we are not trampled underfoot by the big global gaming companies, and that a reasonable sum is repaid to the sport in the respective countries?
- From a conference perspective, I trust that we will be able to conclude this assembly by deciding that two or three suggestions are especially important, and that we can make resources available to implement them. Historically, too little has happened between conferences, and this is something else we need to sort out!
Together, we can make this week something special; it all depends on us all showing commitment and contributing our specific knowledge on the basis of our own conditions in the respective countries and continents to carry our sport forward into the future.
And let us never forget that the horses take centre stage!