Would no World Equestrian Games in 2022 be a blessing in disguise?

FEI Bureau meeting in Bahrain
Credit : (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Wednesday 28 November - 14h36 | Sébastien Roullier (translated by Ian Clayton)

Would no World Equestrian Games in 2022 be a blessing in disguise?

“Was Tryon the last World Equestrian Games?” asked the editorial in last month’s edition of Grand Prix magazine in France. 

 - Would no World Equestrian Games in 2022 be a blessing in disguise?

In the wake of a 2018 Games plagued by widespread organizational problems, notably in endurance, numerous delays in completing the infrastructure necessary for holding the competitions and welcoming competitors, team members, officials and spectators, and a lack of enthusiasm amongst the public (not helped by the looming threat of a hurricane during part of the WEG), the question was a legitimate one.

Given that no serious candidate seems ready to step up and bid for this huge and costly event in 2022, the Fédération équestre internationale (FEI) has been forced to face the query head-on. And two months later, there is still no categorical response – but the answer is leaning toward ‘yes’ (to a last Games). At the very least, the small rural town in North Carolina has undoubtedly hosted the last WEG in the format they have had since 2010 – in other words, with the Individual and Team championships in eight disciplines overseen by the FEI brought together: show jumping, eventing, dressage, endurance, driving, vaulting, reining and para-dressage. And at a meeting on the margins of the FEI’s General Assembly from November 16–20 in Manama, Bahrain, the organization's leaders in the FEI Bureau were obliged to address the issue of what might happen in four years.

“The FEI has twice opened the bidding process for the FEI World Equestrian Games 2022, but this has not resulted in any realistic bids,” it explained. “As a result, the Bureau unanimously approved the opening of a bidding process for individual world championships in all disciplines for 2022, but with preference being given to multi-discipline bids."

Does this signify the definitive end of the WEG? Officially, no. “The President [Ingmar De Vos, unanimously re-elected to a second four-year mandate by the General Assembly – editor’s note] stressed that this does not necessarily mean the end of the FEI World Equestrian Games and bids to host the full seven-discipline Games for 2022 and 2026 will be considered,” the FEI remarked [likely combining dressage and para-dressage in that remark – editor's note]. “However, he made it clear that securing world championships for 2022 in the Olympic and Paralympic disciplines was crucial as these serve as qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Games.”

For 2026, Mark Bellissimo has reportedly expressed a desire to once again host the event at the Tryon site in North Carolina, in order to get a return on the enormous investments he has already made but also provide momentum to his real estate and hotel project. But the FEI, which was forced to rush half of its employees – around 50 staff – to the United States a month before the opening ceremony to intervene, as well as investing out-of-pocket almost a million Swiss francs (US $1 million) just to prepare the endurance course, without counting other subsidies to ensure the quality of competitions, will think twice before entrusting such a responsibility to the American businessman again.

The organization could also facilitate the task by asking potential hosts to choose the six or seven sports which interest them most. Given the current existential crisis in endurance, a discipline to which the FEI is still trying to bring meaning, as well as the uncertain future of reining (in Manama, Sabrina Ibáñez, FEI secretary general, announced that the Federation’s agreement with the American Quarter Horse Association and the National Reining Horse Association had been ended due to non-respect of anti-doping rules, the oversight of competitions and the minimum age of participating horses), these two disciplines could be the ones to go.

And yet, even if the least publicized sports (like driving and vaulting) will suffer from it, the lack of a WEG in 2022 – something now wished for by many – can also be seen as an opportunity. Indeed, it would open the possibility for the world championships in the three Olympic disciplines to return to elegant and history-charged venues whose lay-out and infrastructure can not accommodate the Games in their current form. Imagine watching the show jumping championships in La Baule, Dublin or Madrid, those for eventing disputed at Badminton, Burghley or Pau and those for dressage finally unfold in front of a packed arena, in Rotterdam or Aachen. There would nothing like it to spark the public’s interest once again. 

Potential candidates will have to be aware, however, that the FEI process will be more of a sprint than a marathon. Indeed, aspiring hosts will have to make themselves known by February, 2019. In the initial rush, meetings will allow them to spell out their expectations and limitations, before their bids are evaluated in the spring of 2019. The FEI has committed to announcing the names of the successful bidders at its next general assembly – less than a year from now. 

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