THE COLUMN: After controversy, pentathlon seeks to be more modern and is already analyzing its fifth discipline with confidence in LA 2028

The new IUPM Working Group, made up of 21 experts, opened analysis of proposals and will decide in about eight weeks. The selected sport will undergo trials in the summer and be subject to a final vote at the November Congress on the road to the 2023 IOC Session.

A rider with her horse are seen next to a no riding zone sign during a news conference about keeping horse riding in the modern pentathlon program in Budapest, Hungary, November 12, 2021. REUTERS / Marton Monus
A rider with her horse are seen next to a no riding zone sign during a news conference about keeping horse riding in the modern pentathlon program in Budapest, Hungary, November 12, 2021. REUTERS / Marton Monus

The International Union of Modern Pentathlon (UIPM) officially began this Thursday, January 13, to outline the discipline that will replace equestrianism after the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

The Working Group of 21 experts, tasked with reaching a consensus on “the Fifth Discipline,” met for the first time in video conference to discuss which sport will fit the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) requirement to include modern pentathlon in the Los Angeles 2028 program.

Modern pentathlon is, along with boxing and weightlifting, one of three traditional Olympic sports that are in the International Olympic Committee’s “waiting circle” for the summer event in six and a half years. None of those three are on the initial list of 28 sports for LA 2028 that will be submitted to the IOC Session in Beijing in three weeks for final approval.

It is not ruled out that the Olympic forum will again be presented in a “hybrid” format in the face of the current severe upsurge in the coronavirus pandemic.

The IOC has asked the UIPM to finalize proposals for a new format without equestrianism and make a final decision in 2023. The proposal for the fifth discipline, according to the IOC, should demonstrate a significant reduction in cost and complexity and an improvement in the areas of safety, accessibility, universality and appeal to young people and the general public.

This first meeting of the “Working Group” took place almost two months after the consultation process opened by the UIPM to evaluate options for the “star sport” that will replace the equestrian event in crisis after the scandal over the beating of horses at the Olympic tournament in Tokyo.

At the UIPM Congress in late November, 82 percent of national federations voted in favor of replacing equestrianism, a vote that was preceded by unease over the change from numerous Olympic athletes from a specific group of countries whose national federations felt the process had transgressed the statutes.

UIPM officials categorically denied that its Executive Board had acted unconstitutionally, arguing that it was a matter of expediting a process of proposing a new format to the IOC for consideration by its Olympic Program Commission in preparation for Los Angeles.

Ultimately, the UIPM Congress had the last word with its overwhelming majority vote in favor of excluding equestrianism, and the IOC left out modern pentathlon, albeit only temporarily for the time being.

The Fifth Discipline Working Group brings together athletes, coaches, UIPM technical and medical committees, event organizers, National Federation development staff, representatives of Olympic venues for Paris 2024, LA 2028 and Brisbane 2032, marketing and media experts, and is chaired by Klaus Schormann, re-elected for an eighth term at the helm of the UIPM, which he has headed for 32 years.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Women's Riding - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Ieda Guimaraes of Brazil falls from her horse during the competition REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "POY SPORTS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2021 PACKAGES
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Women's Riding - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 6, 2021. Ieda Guimaraes of Brazil falls from her horse during the competition REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "POY SPORTS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2021 PACKAGES

Mexican Ivar Sisniega, a competitor at the Olympic Games in Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, is also a member of this team of experts in his capacity as chairman of the UIPM Innovation Commission.

It was the recommendations of this Innovation Commission that triggered the whole process that has led to the departure of equestrianism and the search for its replacement. Sisniega has chaired it since its creation in 2016.

In dialogue with Around The Rings from the Panam Sports office in Mexico, entity of which he is its general secretary, Sisniega refused to unveil which are the potential sports to replace the equestrian event amid speculations that have alluded to cycling, rowing or steeplechase.

“I have some clear ideas because of my position in the Innovation Commission, but it would be disrespectful to the work of the Group to advance them publicly,” he replied.

Sisniega does not rule out that more than one sport could be included in this “pre-selection”.

Initial testing would extend through March or April. The proposed sport would undergo trials in the summer to further confirm its linkage with the other four sports: shooting, fencing, swimming and running, a process that will move forward under the watchful eye of the IOC’s Sports Department.

The Working Group would then pass the project to the UIPM Executive Committee, which would submit the new sport and the new format to its November 2022 Congress in Guatemala City.

The selection of the new discipline should be based on criteria of continuing Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s narrative of preserving modern pentathlon as the sport of the “most complete athlete”, not being under the governance of another IOC recognized International Federation, allowing global accessibility and universality, being attractive and relevant to the world’s youth and future generations, providing gender equality and equity and meeting the sustainability and legacy requirements of the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020+5.

It must also be exciting and easily understood by TV and digital audiences and all fans in general, be low cost for both athletes and organizers (lower equipment costs and fewer officials, not cause transport and logistical complications, fit within the new pentathlon stadium and urban environment, compatible with the new 90-minute elimination format and with the current handicap start and continuous event concept.

An element also important to analysts is that the new sport results in minimal injury rates and is easy to assimilate and train based on the abilities of current athletes.

In the International Equestrian Federation, included in the 2028 Olympic program, its competitors travel with their horses while athletes in the UIPM must compete with equines made available by tournament organizers, animals that must also have the ability to jump the maximum height of 1.20 meters. Horses are not always available for this challenge.

“Every change involves overcoming certain resistance,” says Sisniega.

“The fact that athletes are present on the Working Group will allow different points of view to be heard in the deliberations.”

“Many people within modern pentathlon questioned equestrianism not only because of what happened in Tokyo. Similar situations already happened at other Olympic Games.

“Equestrianism is a serious constraint to development worldwide, an unfair test because of the draw of the horses and an event that becomes more and more difficult to organize every year. The decision to add a fifth discipline is intended to allow more countries in the world to practice it in the future,” said Sisniega.

Meanwhile, Paris 2024 will be the first Games with a new elimination format suitable for television that will allow audiences to watch the five disciplines in 90 minutes inside a stadium, and in the process, say goodbye to horses.


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