By Michael Dunne
The world governing body of equestrian sport (FEI) has given a three-month timescale for bids to host the next world championships in 2022 and has said it will accept representations from venues interested in staging standalone events as well as those who would be prepared to host all seven equestrian disciplines at once.
The all-in-one format, introduced in 1990, has been known as the World Equestrian Games (WEG), but doubts were cast on its future just over two weeks ago when FEI President Ingmar de Vos stated that it may not be the best model going forward due to the enormous cost and logistical challenge to a single bidder.
At its Annual General Assembly, which concluded in Manama, Bahrain, yesterday, the FEI announced that bids are now being invited to find venues to host separate world championships for the various disciplines. However, it also said that preference would be given to a bidder prepared to stage the seven disciplines - jumping, dressage, eventing, reining, vaulting, endurance and para-equestrian dressage - in one location, thus maintaining the WEG format. There is no doubt, though, that this is being said more in hope than expectation.
“This does not mean the end of the World Equestrian Games,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said yesterday. “Bids for seven disciplines (in one venue) for 2022 or 2026 will be considered, but we know how important these championships are to secure Olympic qualification and Para-Olympic qualification and that’s why we have to move forward with individual world championships.”
Interested parties have until the end of February 2019 to make known their intentions. It has been stipulated that a venue bidding for the dressage championships will have to include para-dressage as well.
On Monday much of the discourse at the Assembly surrounded the most recent WEG staging at Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina in September, the most controversial aspects of which surrounded the endurance competition, which started with some riders being directed onto the wrong track, was restarted on a shorter course, and was eventually stopped due to horse welfare concerns in deteriorating weather. The dressage freestyle event was also cancelled.
A report by the independent Equestrian Community Integrity Unit stated that there were multiple issues surrounding the false start in endurance, including lack of communications between officials - particularly lack of radios - and also between the organising committee, national federations and athletes, and delays to the preparation of the vet gate and the endurance trail.
Secretary General Ibáñez acknowledged that there were multiple factors that adversely affected not just endurance but the overall delivery of the Games, citing the management structure of the organising committee, other construction projects and resources that were given priority over delivery of fields of play and other Games- related infrastructures, and communication of vital information in a timely manner.
She acknowledged that, despite the FEI’s commitment to support the organising committee, particularly in the lead-up to the event, the FEI had no realistic mechanism to push it to deliver on its promises other than threatening to cancel the Games, which was not an option due to the time and resources that National Federations and athletes had invested in preparing for the Games.
The overall feeling was that Tryon had failed to chew all it had bitten off when stepping in to rescue the WEG after Bromont in Canada had backed out. It remains to be seen if anyone else has a similar appetite.
Ingmar de Vos was elected unopposed to a second four-year term as FEI President. The Assembly also saw the election of Theo Ploegmakers as President of the European Equestrian Federation (EEF), succeeding Germany’s Dr. Hanfried Haring who was made Honorary President and will continue in an advisory role.