16 Mar 2022

New FAI Hot Air Balloon World Ranking List launch detailed

By Andrew Robertson (AUS)

The FAI Ballooning Commission (CIA) is very excited to announce the launch of the new FAI Hot Air Balloon World Ranking List. The new FAI Hot Air Balloon World Ranking List (WRL) was developed, in conjunction with WatchMeFly, to create a better way for the World Rankings to be updated more frequently.

The WRL has been around for many years and was originally created by Uwe Schneider (Germany) and Gerald Sturzlinger (Austria). They developed a very impressive and complex set of formulas that allows for a way to rank pilots against each other when most of them have never competed at the same events.

Unfortunately, in the past it was very time consuming to manage all the data and pilot lists, and as a result the WRL was not updated very often. In fact, it was only updated every couple of years after a World Championships or World Air Games was held.

This is where WatchMeFly has been able to assist. Over the last five years of providing event management tools, event results, Balloon Live tracking and, more recently, scoring functionality, WatchMeFly has accumulated a centralized database of nearly 2000 pilots. This has allowed us to put together a system that can use this centralized pilot list and allow the management of the World Rankings to be a lot more efficient. As a result, the plan is to have the WRL updated every three months and to allow countries to manage their rankings and update them more frequently.

What is the purpose of the FAI Hot Air Balloon World Ranking List?

It is probably worth explaining why we have a World Ranking list in the first place. The list is not intended to be used for any selection purposes at a national or international level. This is because the calculations are not an exact science but are as good as we can get with the way international competition ballooning works.

The list is more to provide a number of benefits to the sport, including:

  • A way for pilots, crew and ballooning enthusiasts to get an idea of how pilots have performed in the past and how they compare to each other.
  • It helps events and organizations promote their events, the sport and pilots in the media. It is difficult for non-balloonists to understand how competitions work, however people generally understand how a ranking list works. So, for example, when an event makes statements like “we have 5 of the top 10 pilots in the world coming” or “Matthew Scaife is a 3 x Australian champion and is currently ranked 16th in the World”, it sounds more impressive than saying “we have some really good pilots coming”.

So how is the FAI World Ranking List calculated?

If you look at other sports, such as tennis or golf, they have the luxury of having an international circuit, with many events where players regularly compete against each other. For these sports, calculating their World Rankings is relatively easy. Ballooning is not fortunate enough to have so many international events and a group of pilots traveling around the world full time, so our ranking formulas work in a very different way.

It took me weeks to get my head fully around the formulas and the mathematics behind them, so I will try to summarize how it works in the most simple way I can. If you want more detail, I am happy to sit down with a beer and a whiteboard at some point and try to explain it in more detail.

The first thing to understand is that WRL calculations are essentially broken into 2 groups of pilots.

  • Those who have competed at one or more of the last “Big 5” events, consisting of both World (Open) Championships and World Air Games.

Pilots from the Big 5

The WRL system first calculates the rankings of each pilot that has competed at any of the Big 5 events. This ranking is based on an average of their best results from up to 3 events. Since the 5 events could span more than 10 years, there is a weighting applied so the more recent events have more influence on the ranking.

The pilots in this group typically make up around the top 150 to 200 pilots in the WRL.

Pilots from the NAC Ranking List

The next set of pilots are based on ranking lists provided by each NAC’s delegate. It is up to each NAC to decide how they want to determine their national rankings; however, most use the results from their previous National Championships.

The WRL system then calculates each pilot’s overall ranking based on a combination of their position in their NAC’s list and a multiplier based on the NAC’s overall performance at the previous Big 5 events (also weighted by how old each event is). So, for example, currently the Australian pilot rankings are relatively high compared to the past because the Australian Team did well (3rd) overall at the last World Championships in Austria 2018.

How do you climb up the ranking list?

We have covered a lot of factors that influence a pilots ranking, so here is a summary of ways you can get onto the list or move up the rankings.

  1. Compete at your National Championships or the qualifying events for your NAC’s ranking list. If you do not compete and are not on your NACs ranking list, and you have not attended any of the last Big 5 events, you will not be on the next WRL.
  2. Do well at your National Championships and qualify to attend a World Championships. If you go to the Worlds, you will instantly move to the top 200 rankings.
  3. Do well at a World Championships. If you do well at a Worlds, you will generally find you move up into the top 100.
  4. Encourage your country to do well overall. If your country’s team does well overall, this will help bring the rest of the country’s rankings up higher in the list. Typically, the countries that work as a team at the Worlds do better overall because teamwork helps bring all pilots up higher in the event rankings.

Where can you find the FAI Hot Air Balloon World Ranking List?

The last of the original WRL dates from July 2019. The new system is in place for NACs to update their national rankings. The plan to publish quarterly WRLs begins from early April 2022.

  • Please contact the WRL team for further information

Photo credit, top picture: Kathryn Soddy (AUS)