Hans-Christian Matthiesen: "Sport and Politics Should Go Hand in Hand"

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 18:18
Hans-Christian Matthiesen :: Photo © Astrid Appels

Guest columnist of the day is Hans-Christian Matthiesen, a Danish veterinarian and 5* judge. He is also president of the International Dressage Officials Club (IDOC). Matthiesen responds to Eurodressage's article "The 2024 World Cup Finals Riyadh: on Human Rights, Sportwashing, and a Minor Media Boycot."

Sport and Politics Should Go Hand in Hand

This is the essence of the three Olympic values – excellence, respect and friendship - and it relies on the sporting community’s ability to encourage people to be the best they can be; to show respect to others and to themselves; and to celebrate what unites them rather than what divides them.

Moral Barometer

When I received the appointment to officiate at the FEI Dressage World Cup Final in Riyadh, I felt proud and honoured, as I always do when I get the opportunity to give something back to the sport. I did, however, spend a couple of days thinking about it, before I accepted the appointment. And why was that?

To use Sports as part of a policy or strategy can work in both directions. I think equestrian sport must increase awareness of some of its core values: either with its gender equality or in animal welfare in general.

"Soft Power"

Sports can be used to gain “soft power” and influence, or take away focus.  I did a lot of reading and watched several interviews about it. It’s understandable that a country like Saudi Arabia wants to change their economy, from being primarily based on oil and gas to integrating more tourism through cultural and heritage experiences and major sporting events. That takes a lot of investments.

Equally, the international sports federations must dedicate themselves to follow up and see to it these investments also benefit the actual sport and the people around it. Short term investments are not enough, even though building a new sports complex might seem like a big, lasting thing. Long-term changes should be seen within gender equality and sustainability, openness and transparency, even if it takes time, as for any social or culture shift. And not only money, but also the willingness to cooperate with international sport organizations in order to create a better sport and hence a better understanding for other values.

Social Cohesion in Sport

Sport plays an important role in our social cohesion - there are 12 nations represented amongst the 17 participants taking part at the Final and I decided to accept the appointment, because I believe in the sport and its opportunities to create a new understanding. I know others believe in boycott or isolation, but in this case I chose to believe in collaboration, education, and awareness.

Criticism on Judging

The World Cup competition in itself will be, from the judges’ perspective, very interesting. It will not be an easy task, but I never think judging is easy! With all the attention and the criticism towards the judges, I feel the pressure like never before. This is just me being human.

There is an outcry for change in the sport. This will not happen overnight, but I do believe that there is a “new beginning”. We will do our best: go back to the basics and be stricter on some matters (harmony, frame, contact etc). I know for myself that I will try to stay very focused on the “ball in the game” instead of getting stressed. But that’s sometimes an achievement in itself.

-- Hans-Christian Matthiesen

Related Links
The 2024 World Cup Finals Riyadh: on Human Rights, Sportwashing, and a Minor Media Boycot
The Elite Shows up for 2024 CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage, Where Status Quo is Maintained
Eurodressage editorial: Recalibration