WEG 2018: Ten Observations!

WEG 2018 opened under clouds which never really dissapated
Credit : Scoopdyga

Wednesday 26 September - 11h33 | Lulu Kyriacou

WEG 2018: Ten Observations!

The 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games has finished with the usual jubilant winners and disappointed losers. Here are ten observations looking back at the event.  

Great sport but......

Great sport but...... - WEG 2018: Ten Observations!

Newly created tracks like this one in endurance became unsafe as the rain fell
Credit : Scoopdyga

1. The sport was great but despite this, mainstream free-to-air television broadcasting was not available in many countries where fans had to rely on subscription channels. As one of the original thoughts behind holding a World Equestrian Games was to encourage more coverage (less outlay for broadcasters if one championship in one venue) this was a massive fail for the idea.  

2. As a one-off concept (initially proposed by HRH Prince Phillip,  then President of the FEI) the WEG as a multi-disciplined celebration of horse sport was a good one, to generate publicity and raise awarenesss of equestrianism. But that idea was for just three disciplines, not eight, so now, as a recurring reality, the World Equestrian Games is a lumbering dinosaur, impossible to run efficiently or without great financial loss. There have been issues at almost every renewal.  Mark Bellissimo, founding partner at this year's venue the Tryon International Equestrian Centre (TEIC) in North Carolina, told the press as the Games closed that, despite sponsorship deals, he was looking at an approximate loss of " approximately $1.5 million." As the FEI have encouraged diversity, so the Games has grown and having to make arrangements for hundreds of horses, athletes and support staff means trying to run the Games at a profit is nigh on impossible. Bellissimo has suggested, as have several commentators, that perhaps the Games needs to be split, if not into eight separate championships, perhaps into two or three smaller chunks, which existing venues (e.g. Hickstead, Aachen, Samourin) could host without difficulty and  without spending a fortune.

3. Plenty has been written about it, but there is no denying endurance got the worst deal of any sport at WEG. Even though several equestrian commentators had provided evidence weeks in advance that the site for endurance was well behind schedule, the situation was not addressed.  So no-one was really surprised when disaster happened. Most of the track (according to the riders) actually held up well but any fool could have worked out that on the places where there were significant earthworks, less than ten days before the event was due to begin, there would be footing issues in heavy rain. The deterioration in the going was one of the issues mentioned  as a reason for abandoning the class. Perhaps it is time that the FEI learned that if welfare is their priority (more of that later!) it is better to act sooner rather than later.

4. There might have been a shift in eventing's big six nations. Despite all the talk of diversity and inclusion and the re-structuring of the sport at the championship level to ensure more teams can compete and complete, there are still only six nations that can realistically win a World Championsips or Olympic gold medal. Until recently those nations have been Great Britain, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the USA but the latter, despite having some individual successes, seems to be falling way behind the others and perhaps is about to be replaced by Ireland, rejuvenated under the guidance of Sally Corscadden.

Its not just Chris Bartle

Its not just Chris Bartle - WEG 2018: Ten Observations!

Eric Lamaze mentioned the construction work still ongoing at Tryon
Credit : Scoopdyga

5. Chris Bartle is undoubtedly worth his weight in gold medals. Less than two years after taking over the helm in Britain as their World Class Performance Manager, he led the British eventing team to taking back the world team title from Germany, the team he had led at the previous WEG. But Bartle is not the only winner in the British support team.  Major Richard Waygood is worth a similar amount of gold as a chef d'equipe. An event rider himself, before joining Bartle's staff Bar, he managed the dressage team at London 2012.  They did quite well........

6. Carlos Enriques Lopez Lizarazo, the Columbian showjumper, came under a lot of fire at the World Cup Finals in Paris because of the way 13-year-old Admara jumped. Lopez Lizarazo was accused in the press conference at the time of all sorts of scurrilous misbehaviour, despite the fact that the horses are carefully checked after each jumping round. On that occasion he finished seventh. In Tryon, the pair were first to jump a clear round in the speed class and the first to jump a clear round in the individual final. They had got to that round slightly luckily when a horse above them withdrew but they made the most of the opportunity and finished fifth overall. That's two top ten finishes in world class events. Hopefully the critics have learned that a change of rider, a change of bridle and a different training routine can produce great results, without jumping to erroneous conclusions.

7. Talking of the jumping, the first round scoring co-efficient is used (amongst other reasons)  to rank all the riders with fractions so mathematically, there should never be a tie in either the team or individual result. Astonishingly, this is what happened in the team contest, which provided a very exciting spectacle for the spectators, with all members of the Swedish and American teams having to jump an extra round against the clock.  While this is great for the audiences, the top-ranked horses already jump five rounds over four days, so surely there is a better way to separate teams at the end of the Nations Cup round?  It did not seem to affect the teams too much on this occasion (the American team all made it to the last 25 individual slots and McLain Ward finished fourth) but it is a lot of jumping, and it remains to be seen if it will take those horses longer to recover from their Championships exertions.

8. There were lots of rumblings about the venue but endurance riders aside, only Canadian champion Eric Lamaze has been brave enough so far to go on record with his concerns! Lamaze's outpourings have not been entirely well received but at least he had the guts to speak out.

9. It was not just eventing where there might be a change in the world order...... The Netherlands won team gold in para-dressage, the first time EVER that the British have been beaten at any major championship. It is just as well the Dutch won there, because otherwise they had a miserable WEG. Even in the combined driving, the Dutch team got beaten when hot favourites, by the team from the USA who had never won a team gold medal in combined driving ever before.  

Finally, if welfare is important.......

Finally, if welfare is important....... - WEG 2018: Ten Observations!

Chester Weber leads the USA to driving gold
Credit : Scoopdyga

10. Finally, we  learned that horse welfare is not as important as TV rights and that the FEI cannot decide exactly what their welfare priorities are. At a press conference, TIEC executive Michael Stone was asked why the showjumping had taken place during the hottest part of the day (a point also noted by Eric Lamaze, see Point 8 above) and not in the evening (cooler and more chance of spectators on site). Stone commented that  there were no floodlights due to the expense of installing them at what was a temporary venue  and then said an afternoon slot suited the television companies better.  FEI President Ingmar de Vos mentioned, in support of Stone, that WEG had been moved to September from its usual August slot for cooler weather and that, for similar reasons, the eventing cross country at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo would take place in the morning to get the coolest weather (which will also be an evening TV slot in the west). All sounding OK so far?

But if it was so easy to move the whole of WEG to accommodate the weather, and the Tokyo climate can be predicted two years in   advance, why the delay in restarting the endurance knowing at least half the race on the original schedule would already be in the midday sun and why not INSIST that the speed be reduced? How were the teams EVER allowed to dispute a change made on welfare grounds?  
Then Sabrina Ibánez, Secretary General of the FEI, commented that jumping under floodlights might have caused shadows, preventing a 'level' playing field for all athletes at this WEG. Not a problem that has really affected any number of outdoor floodlit shows (several rounds of the Longines Global Champions Tour for example) but has been a significant problem (both for show jumpers and eventers) when jumping in bright daylight where the shadows move with the sun (over which even the FEI has no control!) and can be different from one rider's round to the next. The Secretary General's words indicate, at the very least, a lack of understanding on the issue, because making horses jump a total of six rounds in blazing heat is hardly a better idea. These days, with the internet and social media, there is no hiding for anyone, be they officials, organisers or athletes and while all of us can accept the unforeseen, where welfare is concerned the FEI needs to become more pro-active rather than reactive. The World Equestrian Games is supposed to be a show of all things good about horse sport, not a vehicle to highlight its deficiencies.

Further reading...