Obstacle has been approved to replace riding as modern pentathlon's fifth discipline in a move that has proved controversial in the sport ©UIPM/Augustas Didžgalvis

The International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) Athletes' Committee has pleaded for unity in the sport in a bid to help secure its Olympic status from Los Angeles 2028.

Modern pentathlon has been left off the initial programme for the Olympics in five years' time pending the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) consideration of a proposal for the sport's competition format.

Riding has been axed from after Paris 2024 following the scandal at Tokyo 2020 which prompted widespread criticism and led to German coach Kim Raisner being sent home in disgrace for punching a horse that refused to jump.

Obstacle was approved as the sport's new fifth discipline at last year's virtual UIPM Congress.

While backed by the Athletes' Committee, the move has not proved universally popular in the sport, with opposition spearheaded by the Pentathlon United pressure group.

Committee member Jamie Cooke, a former world and European champion, said that while a balanced debate was to be welcomed, unity is important for the sport's hopes of maintaining its Olympic status.

"There's always going to be debate, argument and opinion, but this is an Olympic sport that's been given the opportunity by the IOC to make change," the Briton told insidethegames.

"That was very clearly received.

"The sport then underwent a thorough process to find a new discipline, and that cannot be called into question.

"This new discipline offers us a massive amount of participation and audience market, we've got Los Angeles to showcase it.

"One of the things I'm doing is trying to call for unity.

"It's time that the sport comes together, the athletes and the fans come together from the past and present.

"We all have to come together to fight for this beautiful sport."

The chair of the Committee Yasser Hefny, a two-time world champion, invited Pentathlon United to provide input on a final proposal to be submitted to the IOC.

Britain's former world champion Jamie Cooke insisted
Britain's former world champion Jamie Cooke insisted "we all have to come together to fight for this beautiful sport" ©Getty Images

"We welcome Pentathlon United and anyone else to work together to try to get the best out of the proposal we are going to put to the IOC," the Egyptian told insidethegames.

"In the end, the decision was made in a democratic way, it is done.

"Questioning if this is right and wrong will just slow us down.

"Whether you are Pentathlon United, an Athletes' Committee member or just a pentathlete, any person who has a positive idea to support us and make this proposal better, we are 100 per cent open.

"A family can fight, but when we have dangers from the outside, we should all work together.

"We are always happy to work with everyone who is involved in pentathlon to achieve our ultimate goal which is making it to LA.

"I think we have a strong proposal that would do well."

The appeal for unity comes off the back of a survey released by Pentathlon United, in which more than 70 per cent of the 198 participants expressed fear modern pentathlon would be left off the Olympic programme from Los Angeles 2028.

Hefny disputed that this represents a majority of pentathletes.

"The true majority of the athletes elected by their peers in their nations we consulted before the Congress and making the decision," he said.

"We consulted athletes from around 60 nations, and we had the support of 80 per cent or maybe more empowering us to take the correct decision.

"The majority is supporting the AC [Athletes' Committee].

"We are talking about a sport that has more than 10,000 registered athletes.

"When we are speaking a survey with 190 people and we do not know if they are current athletes, professionals, Olympians, parents or family and friends, this should be questioned."

UIPM Athletes' Committee chair Yasser Hefny of Egypt said Pentathlon United could
UIPM Athletes' Committee chair Yasser Hefny of Egypt said Pentathlon United could "work with us hand-in-hand with the new modern pentathlon" ©ITG

He also revealed that the UIPM Athletes' Committee had discussed the proposals for obstacle with IOC sports director Kit McConnell at the end of last year, and said he believes the IOC is "very positive about the change".

"We have the history, Pierre de Coubertin the founder of the Olympic Games and everything, but at the moment you need something dynamic, you need some sort of urban vibes," he insisted.

"You can see sports like skateboarding and break dancing in the Olympics.

"If you had said 30 years ago break dancing is coming you would have said that would be crazy, but this is what we are having now, so that's what we need to add to our historic event."

Cooke pointed to the position of UIPM vice-president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who holds the same position with the IOC, in arguing the sport is well-placed to preserve its Olympic status.

"We have a fantastic opportunity here," he argued.

"We have major players in IOC circles.

"Do the IOC take the UIPM seriously?

"The UIPM vice-president is Juan Antonio Samaranch, and the IOC vice-president is Juan Antonio Samaranch.

"We're in a really pivotal position here where we want to be in the Games, thriving, showcasing what a wonderful sport this is, and leading because this gives us an opportunity to start to grow and develop in all corners of the world to go forward."

He also disputed suggestions that testing of obstacle had been insufficient, pointing to the four test events held last year.

"We had a brilliant testing series with four test events from under-17 and under-19 at the World Championships in Italy where a lot of the future generation of the sport got to test it," he said.

"We tested it with the elite current athletes in Ankara who hopefully will thrive at this in the coming years.

"We also tested it in Asia where historically we are not a strong sport.

"That is a market for us where we can develop and grow, because we would love to see that diversity of having a lot of athletes from around the world.

"The last test event was in Poland, so it was tested four times throughout all age groups which provided some great feedback.

"This is what testing is all about, you have to try it to get feedback to improve it.

"We had diversity of all age groups, diversity around youth to elite."

Jamie Cooke pointed to Juan Antonio Samaranch's roles with the UIPM and IOC in insisting modern pentathlon is taken
Jamie Cooke pointed to Juan Antonio Samaranch's roles with the UIPM and IOC in insisting modern pentathlon is taken "seriously" ©Getty Images

Pentathlon United has heavily criticised the UIPM's governance under long-serving President Klaus Schormann, who survived a vote of no confidence at last year's Congress where Australia's Alex Watson hoped to challenge him for the role.

The process that led to obstacle replacing riding has come under fire, and the UIPM has faced accusations of seeking to silence opponents to the sport's current trajectory.

Those claims were disputed by Cooke and Hefny.

"At the moment, and there's obviously confidentiality around a lot of these conversations, not one person has come to me and said they've been silenced," Cooke said.

"I know that Yasser is very popular with the athlete community, and we would like to think that any athlete can come to us and speak to us as friends.

"I know that myself and Yasser would chase this to the end of the earth if that was the case.

"If that is the case, we encourage any athlete that you can come to use because this is something we feel very strongly about."

Hefny added: "We have our platforms on social media, and we always update the athletes.

"We posted several times asking any athlete who are experiencing any acts of silencing to come back to us.

"I think what we did before the Congress maybe no other Athlete Committee has ever done to connect with athlete representatives from more than 60 nations one-by-one and asked them to vote on every single motion in the Congress.

"I think Pentathlon United have to put their personal problems aside, and I'm inviting them to work with us hand-in-hand with the new modern pentathlon we have now."

UIPM President Klaus Schormann has faced criticism from Pentathlon United, but Jamie Cooke defended his dedication to the sport ©UIPM
UIPM President Klaus Schormann has faced criticism from Pentathlon United, but Jamie Cooke defended his dedication to the sport ©UIPM

Cooke also defended the leadership of German official Schormann, insisting "I've never met anyone that works as hard for something, and that can never be taken away" and he has "the connections which cannot be called into question with the IOC".

He said that incorporating obstacle would enable the sport to tap into "a large global participation audience" and viewership, and pointed to previous changes in modern pentathlon including the addition of a laser run and reducing the competition from five days to three days, and one day at Paris 2024.

The 32-year-old, who retired last year, insisted that obstacle would continue the legacy of "testing the most complete athlete".

"This has been a long journey," Cooke said.

"We’ve met IOC criteria, they set those out very clearly and I think every one of those can be ticked off.

"We have followed a process that has involved a lot of people from athletes to coaches, to medical to Board members to National Federations and more.

"They've gone above and beyond to include people in this decision-making process, and we've come to the climax which is the obstacle discipline, which is now being integrated into our sport.

"We've survived the last few Games, but I am absolutely convinced we can go into LA and thrive."