Coursing in Europe
This year the Fédération Cynologique Internationale held its European Lure Coursing Championship on the weekend of June 20-23 in Estonia. For many enthusiasts this was too far away from central Europe. Added to that, it was the Midsummer holiday weekend, so considerably fewer dogs were entered in comparison with previous years: there were 510 regular entries; plus 94 "Sprinters" (as the larger category of Whippets and Italian Sighthounds are called in this context); and 72 of the breeds in FCI Group V, the so-called “Primitive Hunting Types,” such as the Pharaoh and Ibizan Hounds and the Cirneco dell'Etna. There were also 57 from all the breeds combined on the Reserve list. A total, then, of "just" 676 dogs. As a comparison. previous entries have been: Slovakia in 2016 - 878 dogs; Switzerland in 2017 - 857 dogs; Denmark in 2018 - 896 dogs.
Many things made it noticeable that the Estonian organization lacked the experience of those of Switzerland and Denmark. Communications preceding the event were not clear. Initially there were to be three different fields, but through lack of judges there were ultimately only two fields. (FCI lure coursing International Championships require five judges per field with one reserve judge, and they are relieved with five fresh judges for the second course of the day.).
Place of action was the large Jõulumäe sports complex in the vicinity of the city of Pärnu. We were warmly welcomed by a group of friendly students, all of whom spoke excellent English and were extremely capable and helpful.
On Thursday afternoon I was requested to inspect the two fields together with one other judge and two representatives from the FCI Commission for Sighthound Racing (Commission des Courses de Lévriers) that oversees racing and lure coursing. The fields were a strenous 30-minute walk from the main site. (Advantage: all dogs were properly warmed up and cooled off!) The fields were run by two very experienced Finnish teams, equipped with electrically powered, chainsaw-based lure machines. The two enormous fields contained two separate course layouts that at first sight appeared to be disappointing. On Field 1 the dogs had to run, wrench and turn over a length of 930 yards for the large breeds, and 760 for the small. Thanks to the opressive heat of more than 91 degrees, this minimal length for the larger breeds was actually not so bad. Field 2 was really more of a race track. The two test dogs that we had taken with us made that quite clear: the fastest led all the way and couldn’t be overtaken. That field layout needed to be modified. The state of the ground was good, which was demonstrated by the small number of injuries at the end of the weekend, something that has occasionally been quite different in the past.
The catalog was issued on Thursday but was pretty bare, containing only a summary of the entries. As is usual in recent years the veterinary inspection was held the day before the competition. The inspections took far more time than was anticipated and left little time in the program for the “team leaders,” who are responsible for all care and communication between the host organization and their own national group of competitors. The opening ceremony consisted just of a couple of speeches and a performance by a folk-dance group.
The original judges' selection was redrawn by the representative of the FCI Sighthound Commission. He succeeded in making sure that all dogs each day were evaluated by judges from 10 different countries — in contrast to the previous selection, in which e.g. three Finnish judges ended up working together.
On Friday it was my turn to judge. I was present at 6:30 a.m. to observe the test runs, which contrary to what had been announced did not occur. Some time after 7 a.m. the first dogs were run and immediately experienced one serious disqualification. Happily that was not an omen for the day. Generally speaking the dogs performed well to excellently, and you could see that for a number of dogs it was altogether very tiring.
By 11:45 the first courses had been run, and by 1 p.m. in the afternoon the entire team of volunteers was ready back on field after lunch, but we could not continue coursing until 3 p.m. The field secretariat had omitted to request the routine computer program from German and Dutch coursing friends. Instead, they had designed one of their own, which had not been tested in practice. So, due to a fault earlier that morning (changes made in the running-order draw without informing team leaders), the Whippet Sprinter draw had to be corrected. All the breeds that were to follow were ready in their running order; we could have started with them, which would have given the secretatriat at least two hours to puzzle everything out. Unfortunately they did not choose this practical solution.
Borzoi running order on Saturday also had to be redone. On Sunday we had to start an hour late when it appeared that the Reserve Salukis had been included in the draw for the breed. The Whippet draw was ready, but these dogs also had to wait an hour until the Salukis could begin in the other field. Apparently it was out of the question to let one field start before the other; both fields were required to start simultaneously.
Deciding the final results in a draw in scores is a good example of what can be solved by automation. Unfortunately, that possibility was not provided and had to be corrected in a major fashion. Making an error between 16th and 17th place is not so serious, of course, but missing a higher placement in this way is something else. In my opinion it is highly to be recommended that the FCI Commission for Sighthound Sport obtains a good, functioning computer program for this purpose and requires the host country organization to use it. Of course this will have to be with the necessary assistance and training of those involved. Currently every country is reinventing the wheel, with very varied success.
The award ceremony on Friday did not start until 9:30 p.m. This was not surprising when you know that we finished running at 7:15 p.m. That’s a long day! Unfortunately, except for the first three placements, there were no prizes or trophies for the rest. On Saturday and Sunday that was improved with a small gift bag with a doggy snack
The Finnish teams remained steadfastly cheerful at their posts, although by Sunday you could see that even Finnish lure operators can suffer fatigue. How can it be otherwise? Hats off to them for their dedication and great teamwork! On Sunday they got a well-earned, deafening applause.
A special mention for the live-stream video. During the three days, the whole of every single course could be seen live online (still available on YouTube). A super idea!
Estonia had chosen to make a title and a trophy racing blanket available for the Sprinters class too, which was deeply appreciated by the competitors.
My conclusions on this European Championship: it had a well-meaning but inexperienced organization and secretariat. These events are greater and far more extensive than generally thought. A super contribution was made by the FCI representative of the Commission for Sighthounds. Unfortunately the whole event lacked a little atmosphere, but the young volunteers and the Finnish field teams delivered a superlative performance!
For the 2020 edition the Hungarian organization already has a site ready and available; see their Facebook page with drone video of the whole venue, the Kincsem* Equestrian Park in the village Tápiószentmárton in the county of Pest.
Finally some statistics to finish off. The countries with the most competitors: Germany (88, with 7 European Champions), Finland (70, with 8 Champions), Sweden (58, with 3 Champions), Czech Republic (53, with 3 Champions), Russia (40, with 2 Champions).
Breeds with the highest number of entries: Whippets (67 dogs, 47 bitches), Salukis (44, 34) and Borzois (42, 26).
*Kincsem (Hungarian for "My Treasure") was a Thoroughbred race horse with the most wins of any unbeaten horse in the history of the sport, having won 54 races from 54 starts. Foaled in Hungary in 1874, Kincsem is a national icon and highly regarded in other parts of the world too. Over four seasons she won against both female and male company at various race tracks across Europe, including Classic races in Hungary and Austria and major stakes in Germany, France and England. - From Wikipedia.