The controversial move from horses to obstacle courses will make modern pentathlon more accessible and allow for more commercial opportunities as the sport looks to secure its Olympic future, the head of governing body UIPM told Reuters.
Created by modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin, the sport features five events - fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting and cross-country running - and has been part of the Games since 1912.
However, it faces a battle for survival after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) left it out of its initial list for Los Angeles 2028.
Amid widespread criticism after a German coach struck a horse that refused to jump a fence at the Tokyo Games, UIPM dropped horse riding before voting to replace it with obstacle racing last year.
“Equestrian has been a vital element of our history, but it was impossible to address the need for less cost and complexity without reducing barriers to global participation,” UIPM President Klaus Schormann told Reuters via email.
“Thanks to the global popularity of shows like SASUKE and Ninja Warrior, we’re giving this consumer group a new reason to engage with the Games while providing networks with a broadcast-friendly format that works well for commercial partners.
“We’re now offering Los Angeles 2028 and future Olympics organisers a solution that changes the game.”
The sport will continue in its current format in next year’s Paris Games but Schormann said preparations were underway for age-group world championships where pentathletes will race in the new sequence of fencing, obstacle, swimming and laser run, which also involves cross country running.
Schormann said the transition to a new modern pentathlon would allow more countries to field athletes in the sport at the Olympics and that the move from “horses to courses” makes it more sustainable.
The decision in 2021 to remove the equestrian element did not go down well within the sport.
Critics said there was a lack of transparency in the process and hundreds of pentathletes called for the UIPM executive board to resign.
Denmark’s modern pentathlon association lodged an appeal against the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which was dismissed.
Schormann says there is less friction now.
“We’re constantly in touch with the athlete community, with the UIPM Athletes Committee involved in all meetings and we talk to athletes on the ground in every competition,” Schormann said.
“I can’t summarise the view of every athlete but I feel strongly there’s more harmony now ... and that’s because our union has done so much in the past year to answer the concerns of anybody who had doubts about the path we must take.”
The IOC will decide modern pentathlon’s status in October and Schormann said the task of the UIPM was to ensure stakeholders were aware of their unique opportunity.
“Obstacle is bringing a youthful, urban perspective to our sport and to the Olympics,” Schormann said.
“We’re no longer simply trying to survive, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform modern pentathlon into one of the most exciting, accessible and popular sports in the Olympic movement.”
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