Modern pentathlon in crisis as athletes accuse sport officials of playing politics

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Olympic silver medallist Samantha Murray has accused UIPM of using ‘ghost votes’ to push through controversial reforms in modern pentathlon, which include axing riding.
Olympic silver medallist Samantha Murray has accused UIPM of using ‘ghost votes’ to push through controversial reforms in modern pentathlon, which include axing riding.

By James Toney

Olympic medallist Samantha Murray has accused modern pentathlon's world governing body of gerrymandering in a bid to force through controversial changes to their sport.

Murray believes the UIPM's embattled president Klaus Schormann is mobilising 'ghost federations' in a bid to drive through his plans to drop riding for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The UIPM's website lists 127 member associations but just 28 sent athletes to the Tokyo Games. There are 29 federations from Africa yet only Egyptians have competed at the last five Olympics, Ahmed Elgendy winning silver behind Great Britain's Joe Choong this summer.

And Murray believes these nations are being used to keep Schormann in the post he has held since 1993, the longest serving international federation president not elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee.

"At Congress every nation has one vote but the current president has created ghost nations - inactive federations around the world," said Murray, who won silver at London 2012.

"We never compete against athletes from these nations but they still hold a vote about the future of our sport.

"This ensures his (Schormann) reelection and means all the issues and ideas he puts forward are passed. We have to fight against it. I've never seen an athlete from these nations, I've never met one at a competition.

"They are ghosts to us and yet they can outvote the active nations. It shouldn't be this way. We saw similar games at play with Fifa, this is just about politics."

The sport was the brainchild of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, who wanted a contest to simulate the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines, ride an unfamiliar horse, fight enemies with pistol and sword then swim and run to return to their comrades.

However, modern pentathlon has long been fighting desperately for relevance in the ever-evolving five-ringed circus.

It consistently ranks bottom for TV audiences and internal measurements for social engagement, metrics so important to the youth-obsessed IOC which don’t make for pretty reading.

And the matter got worse in Tokyo as Germany's Annika Schleu, who had been in the gold-medal position before the showjumping, was seen in tears after her ride, Saint Boy, refused to jump over the obstacles, her coach Kim Raisner punching the horse in disgust before being sent home from the Games in disgrace.

Schormann, whose blustering performance in front of cameras in Tokyo did little to assist his cause, claims he's been told riding needs replacing to maintain Olympic status.

But this has been denied by senior IOC members and a slew of countries, including powerhouse nations Great Britain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Australia, Sweden and the Ukraine have come out against the plans, with Denmark lodging a legal protest at the Court of Arbitration in Sport to stop next week's Congress voting.

Earlier this week Schormann's UIPM put out a statement claiming their proposals - they've not confirmed the sport to replace riding - had already received the backing of more than 50 nations but, tellingly, refused to list them.

"Athletes around the world have spoken loudly and with one voice against this decision. It betrays the vision of Baron de Courbetin, who created this sport especially for the Olympic Games, and it is unconstitutional," said Kate Allenby, a member of a vocal group of athletes, Pentathlon United, opposing changes.

"We don't want to see our sport the subject of court proceedings. Modern pentathlon has given us everything but we've put in this position by the UIPM, who have mismanaged us for 30 years.

"They've brought us to the brink of losing our place in the Olympic Games. The UIPM do not speak for the athletes. We're a sport of history and tradition and we can't abandon it.

"They must postpone next week’s congress to a date where we can properly discuss the future of our sport and go to the IOC together with a reformed riding discipline."

The format used to be held over five days until, in 1996, it was changed to one to strong reviews, the leader accruing points that gave them a timed head start in the final run.

In Beijing and London, further changes were made. In 2012, athletes combined the run and shoot, similar to biathlon, a winter sport with huge appeal. In Rio, they introduced the 'fencing ranking round', which only confused things more, even athletes privately admitting the concept was 'stupid'.

And in Paris it will be all change again – a fast and furious 90-minute format will see athletes complete all five sports in a series of heats and finals.

"Our sport has been tinkered with repeatedly," added Allenby. "Klaus Schormann is a custodian, he has a responsibility to fight for the integrity of modern pentathlon, rather than tinker until there is nothing left."

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