The modern pentathlon scares the horses away but keeps the obstacles away.

The horses leave, but the barriers remain. The International Union of Modern Pentathlon (UIPM) on Monday, May 2, lifted the veil of secrecy over the fifth discipline, which was supposed to replace riding after the Games in Paris 2024. Only a corner, but this should not be enough to settle the differences.

According to a press release from an international organization, the new discipline could be very similar to the old one, but without the size: horses. At the end of a lengthy process of consultation and examination of some sixty proposals, the fifth discipline working group came up with a rather conventional proposal: an obstacle course.

Two versions remain on the table, UIPM explains. Which? Secret. But the details will soon become known, as they will be tested after the 2022 World Cup final, scheduled for the end of June in Ankara, Turkey.

The tests will take place in real conditions, combining two varieties of this discipline with obstacles in swimming, fencing and laser running (running and shooting from a pistol). Once the trials are completed, the final decision will be made by the UIPM Congress.

The body, chaired by the German Klaus Schormann, explains it this way: this new obstacle discipline, in its two versions, meets all thirteen criteria set at the time of the decision to remove riding from the landscape. Among them is a respect for the DNA of the modern pentathlon, namely the search for a complete athlete, as Pierre de Coubertin imagined; price drop; greater availability around the world; a dynamic choice designed for a young audience; inexpensive and easy to install equipment.

The result, even if it is still unclear (UIPM did not accompany its announcement with any image or sketch illustrating the new discipline), seems to be counterintuitive. By sending the horses back to the stable but keeping the shape of the obstacles, the modern pentathlon stays true to its traditions while eliminating the animal element, a source of frequent criticism and controversy.

The upcoming end of the soap opera? Unlikely. Before dropping the case for good, the UIPM will have to convince the IOC of the relevance of its choice. The issue is critical. The executive board of the Olympic body has indeed temporarily excluded modern pentathlon from the program of the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, pending information on the discipline replacing horseback riding.

At this stage, there is no certainty that the obstacle course will appeal to Thomas Bach and other members of the executive committee, even if it seems to fit the bill, especially in terms of cost and simplicity.

Another uncertainty: the reaction of the environment. Coincidence or not, the announcement of a new discipline comes at a time when opposition is making its presence felt. A group of athletes opposed to retirement from equestrianism, called the Pentathlon United, petitioned the IOC to Thomas Bach:conduct a full and independent investigation into the governance and integrity of the UIPM and the 5th discipline consultation process“.

Among the signatories of the agreement are several high-profile names of modern and past pentathlon, including the current Olympic champion Briton Joe Cheung.

Pentathlon United, formed last year to combat the decision to give up riding, explains that it conducted its own survey of 310 athletes around the world. The vast majority of them (over 85%) believe that the UIPM does not take into account the opinion of competitors in its management of the sport. They stated 95% that they were dissatisfied with the way the authority was working on the new discipline.

What’s more: 77% of the athletes surveyed hinted that they might quit their sport after riding retires.

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