Friday 05 October - 10h08 | Sébastien Roullier
World Equestrian Games- Will Tryon Be The Last Edition ?
It has been much debated, before, during and after the recent World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, USA, but were those Games, the last? Grand Prix's Sebastien Roullier looks at the issues surrounding the future of WEG.
Too expensive, too complicated to organize, not enough publicity: the World Equestrian Games – a fantastic concept on paper – have always sparked debates within the horse sport community. And those who have taken on the challenge of putting them on over the years have rarely managed to deliver a flawless event.
While the inaugural edition of the Games in Stockholm, which featured 'only' six disciplines in 1990, and those of Jerez de la Frontera and Aachen, which brought together seven in 2002 and 2006, provided very good and sometimes excellent memories for participants and spectators, that has not been the case for others. In 1994, the organizers of the Games in the Hague went bankrupt. In 1998, those in Rome kept their promises against all expectations but could not host an endurance race, which was relocated to Abu Dhabi. In 2010, the WEG in Lexington, Kentucky were saved by significant last-minute budget infusions – and even then all was not perfect. In 2014, Normandy created a great regional project, but experienced various logistical problems. Not to mention all the organizers, chosen by the Fédération Équestre Internationale, who have thrown in the towel along the way: Paris for the 1994 edition, Dublin for the following and Bromont for 2018.
After the small town in Quebec bowed out a little over two years ago, Mark Bellissimo came to the rescue of the FEI, offering a new host site for its flagship rendezvous. Indeed, Bellissimo promised that the Tryon WEG, to be held on his large property in nearby Mill Spring, North Carolina, would be the best yet. And convinced of the merits of his project, the American raised enough capital to invest nearly $250 million for a stadium and other site features – not to mention an operational budget of millions to deliver the event.
In fact, for the co-founder of Wellington, Florida's Equestrian City, which brings together North and Central American show jumping, hunter and dressage riders every year, there was no question of hosting the WEG in temporary structures. The businessman intended – and still intends – to make his Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) a dream destination for all horse lovers, whatever their discipline, and a permanent meeting point for professional and amateur competitors from around the world.
Not enough time
However, the visionary's ambition ran up against the passage of time, which appears to have elapsed faster than he imagined, as well as the uncertainties related to the weather, which were said to have slowed progress on his pharaonic work by at least two months – one does not raze a hill and build such structures in a day – as well as the complexity of the event itself. Although well-versed in the organization of international jumping and dressage events, Bellissimo (who also puts on national competitions in his Colorado Horse Park near Denver), surely underestimated the requirements for the eight different disciplines at the WEG. That error came to light during an endurance race where things went from bad to worse: a false start, competitors headed in the wrong direction, a first loop cancellation, a new start and finally a cancellation of the whole thing.
Hosting eight sports also requires appropriate communication for a variety of audiences. And we can not help but think that reining, a practice born in the United States, should have been sold out. Alas, that was not the case, and Hurricane Florence, which greatly disrupted the end of the first week of activities, can not be held solely responsible. While there were fortunately more spectators for eventing and driving, the overall expected crowds never showed up, especially in the largest stadium, barely half-filled for the Individual show jumping Final... Mark Bellissimo acknowledged that he may not have mobilized sufficient human resources in the lead-up to the event, all the while defending the quality of the show for the public and sponsors, and hinting that he might try his luck again in the future – possibly in 2026?
What happens next?
Over the course of the two weeks of sport in North Carolina, the future of the WEG was a regular topic of conversation in the alleys of the massive equestrian center. Is it time to put an end to the Games and return to world championships in each discipline? After all, to date, no candidate has officially declared itself up for welcoming them in 2022, with the cities of Doha and Šamorín having withdrawn from the race. At the same time, according to FEI President Ingmar de Vos, the next edition is still of interest to other possible organizaters. For example, Gelderland, a Dutch province which includes the cities of Nijmegen, Arnhem and Ermelo, is reportedly tempted to embark on the adventure.
But the more multiplies sites, the more multiplies potential logistical problems. Already considering tightening the qualifying standards to reduce the number of athletes, the FEI is also contemplating a more manageable format, which would allow WEG candidates to skip out on one or two disciplines. So, did we experience the last WEG in their current format in 2018? At this point, it seems too premature to answer this question one way or the other, but there is no doubt that it will be back on the table at the upcoming FEI Sports Forums and General Assemblies.
Wednesday 10 October - 02h48