China needs grassroots support, says Olympian

China's chances of adding equestrian medals to its haul at Olympic Games will remain slim until it invests at the grassroots level of the sport, said four-times gold medallist Ludger Beerbaum.


German Beerbaum is tutoring American-born Zhu Meimei, who changed her nationality in 2006 and should be eligible for Rio in 2016.

British-based Alex Hua Tian, the former Eton schoolboy who took a tumble in Beijing, is the only Chinese rider to qualify for London so far.

Beerbaum said China's problem was a lack of tradition and breeding and called for more investment in the sport.

"Equestrian is not a traditional sport in China, it's kind of new," he told the China Daily newspaper.

"The history is not here, which is the first obstacle.

"In Europe we have a tradition (going back) a couple of hundred years to get going with breeding.

"The second problem is you have to build up breeding, which means opening the borders and having trade between Europe and China. The whole industry need to be developed yet."

China has a rich history of riding but more as a practical farming skill until recently.

Equestrian events were staged in Hong Kong at the Beijing Games after international veterinary groups refused to certify the Chinese capital as free of equine diseases.

"Europeans are very strict in vaccinating the horses and have passports for every single horse," said Beerbaum, adding that vaccination log entries were meticulous.

"It is mentioned what you vaccinate is not in the food chain. The authorities in Europe are pretty much working on this issue and would like to have the same system in China.

"But for the moment, they are starting slowly in this process and it's not on the same level."

China is hosting more equestrian competitions, attracting international riders, but the vaccination issue means they must compete on local horses instead of their own.

The 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou was the first time the Chinese mainland held an international equestrian tournament and 80 foreign horses were quarantined before being sent home.

An interim measure of unloading European horses at the airport and sealing them in a truck for the journey to the venue was under discussion, Beerbaum said.

"During this process it must be confirmed that they have no contact with other farms," he added. "Maybe this will be the solution for two or three years until the vaccination and passport issue is solved.

"For sure this won't be done in one year. Maybe it will take five to 10 years, but I already see the potential here, it's very positive."

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