Obstacle-course racing is close to being named as the new fifth sport in modern pentathlon, replacing equestrianism, in a highly contentious move that opponents warn will plunge the sport deeper into civil war.
The Guardian can reveal that Team GB’s Tokyo 2020 champion, Joe Choong, is among a group of Olympic and world medallists who wrote to the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, on Sunday urging him to intervene and accusing the sport’s governing body, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne, of ignoring the wishes of its athletes.
“The IOC was clear in its expectation that athletes must play a central role in the review and consultation process for a fifth discipline,” the letter states. “This has not happened.”
The letter cites a poll by Pentathlon United, an independent athlete representative body, which found that more than 95% of athletes are unhappy with the UIPM’s decision. And it calls on the IOC to conduct a “comprehensive and independent investigation” into its lack of transparency.
“The UIPM’s consultation process has been illusory at best and, it would appear, designed only to legitimise a predetermined outcome (which we are advised will be obstacle racing in collaboration with World OCR),” the letter adds. “Certainly, the athlete body has been excluded from any meaningful participation.”
The letter comes in the lead-up to a crucial meeting of the UIPM’s executive board on Monday, where campaigners expect obstacle racing will be voted through before an announcement on Tuesday unless there is a last‑minute intervention.
The UPIM decided to scrap equestrian in November after distressing scenes at the Tokyo Games when a horse was punched by a German coach after it refused to jump a fence. It immediately faced fierce opposition from most athletes, who urged it to reform the show-jumping phase rather than remove it.
Initially the UPIM wanted cross-country cycling as a replacement. However amid concerns it would raise the hackles of the International Triathlon Union, obstacle course racing became the strong favourite.
Whatever decision is made, it is clear that losing equestrian will fundamentally change modern pentathlon, which has been a core Olympic event since 1912 and has always tested athletes in fencing, swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting and cross-country running. However the UIPM believes the sport has to modernise if it wants to be selected for the 2028 LA Olympics.
The former British modern pentathlete Kate Allenby, who won bronze for Team GB at the Sydney Olympics and has led the campaign against the UIPM, told the Guardian the situation was serious but vowed the athletes would fight on.
“We face the biggest threat to our existence in over 100 years,” she said. “Instead of open honest and transparent dialogue about future direction for our sport, the UIPM leadership has chosen to maintain a closed and secretive process with non-disclosure agreements placed on anyone involved in the working group.
“It is a hallmark of the way this UIPM leadership has run our sport for decades. It has led to our sport being removed from the Olympics. As the athletes have made overwhelmingly clear in our survey this is no longer acceptable to them.”
Whether the IOC will listen is open to doubt. Last December Bach told modern pentathlon it had to come up with a proposal for the “replacement of horse riding and demonstrate a significant reduction in cost and complexity and show improvements in safety, accessibility, universality and appeal for youth”.