Just in time for the World Championships, animal rights activists made it public that they had reported Martin Fuchs, the world number 2 in show jumping, to the authorities. The allegation: He made excessive use of his whip. The Swiss team is used to the fuss surrounding major events.
Equestrian athletes seem to have a penchant for making blunders. The British dressage rider Gareth Hughes delivered the latest through ball for this thesis on Sunday at the start of the World Championships in Herning. He helped his team win silver – then it turned out that he had started with a Covid disease.
Hughes had given no sign. And his team kept the infection under cover until the press conference after the awards ceremony. Some of the competition was indignant, but decided not to protest against the rating. The British claimed that Hughes had followed the corona rules in force in the host country Denmark.
The Swiss always find an answer to setbacks
The Swiss show jumpers have almost gotten used to background noise around a major event. Sometimes they contributed to the drama themselves, sometimes the fuss was brought into the team from outside. Before the World Championship competition on Wednesday, the focus was on Martin Fuchs. Animal rights activists had targeted him and turned on the authorities.
The world number 2 is accused of using the whip excessively against one of his horses at the international tournament in Linz in April. His association and the world association FEI, on the other hand, clearly take the view that Fuchs has not broken any rules. In return, the animal rights activists are accused of using the run-up to the World Cup to gain attention for their own interests.
The foundation concerned explained the time of publication of the case by saying that recording the evidence had been time-consuming. Fuchs doesn’t seem unsettled. He won the World Championship dress rehearsal in Dinard.
But the story joins a list of incidents that have concerned the Swiss show jumpers. In 2015, a banned substance was found in a horse owned by Steve Guerdat, the Olympic champion was exonerated, but he missed the European Championships in Aachen. The team can’t be beaten: Without the team leader, she wins bronze and qualifies for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
That’s where Janika Sprunger’s personality came up. Several team members were about the same in terms of performance over the course of the Olympics, but the team management had to remove someone from the squad for the individual decision – and it hit the woman in the group. There were good reasons for this decision. Still, the waves rose. National coach Thomas Fuchs found himself in need of explanation because he was closer to other team members than jumpers because of private relationships. After Rio, Fuchs reportedly considered stepping down from his post.
In 2018, at the last World Equestrian Games in the USA, Switzerland was on course for gold in the Nations Cup – before Sprunger had a blackout and awarded a medal. The amazon was also under pressure because the starting rider Werner Muff was not in good shape. Muff had slipped up at short notice for the World Championships, for Paul Estermann, whose top horse was injured and who was facing a court case. The atmosphere in the Swiss team was in the basement. But boom, Martin Fuchs and Steve Guerdat showed a strong reaction: They won silver and bronze, the first Swiss individual medals in the almost 70-year history of the World Championships.
But the next disillusionment was not long in coming. At the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the prospects were promising – there was no yield. Fuchs and above all Guerdat had been critical of the new Olympic mode in advance. Only one month later: The Swiss team wins the European title in the Nations Cup. Where does this quality of always finding an answer to setbacks come from?
The skills of the tamer are in demand again
It also has to do with the fact that the team was recently led by bosses who have motivation and moderation skills. Andy Kistler came from the toilet roll industry; a veteran who knew how to solve awkward problems. And his successor and current incumbent, the young Michel Sorg, has taken care of the inheritance. Perhaps it helps that the focus was on him earlier, when he had to deal with tricky moments as a presenter on French-speaking Switzerland television and as a circus worker. In any case, Sorg’s qualities as a tamer are recognizable – and are now in demand again.