Wellington Withdraws 2018 World Equestrian Games Bid

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Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Wellington, Florida has withdrawn its bid to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games, Equestrian Sport Productions disclosed Saturday, leaving an underfunded effort by Canada and Lexington, Kentucky which hosted the 2010 championships as the only remaining candidates,

Wellington formally notified the FEI that it was pulling out of the WEG bidding process just days after the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) venue inspection team led by Secretary General Ingmar de Vos visited the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center that hosts the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Global Dressage Festival.

Mark Bellissimo, Chief Executive of the organizing group, ESP, said: “While I believe we had a very strong technical bid and I am confident we could have run a very exciting, unique, and successful WEG, the marketing conditions precluded us from honoring our commitments to a valued sponsor.”

The conflict centered over a multiyear, multimillion dollar sponsorship deal Rolex signed with ESP beginning this year. Rolex also has lucrative sponsorship deals with the world’s premier horse shows–the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany; Geneva and Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada.

The FEI severed decades-long ties with Rolex in favor of a new $100 million longterm arrangement with competing watch company Longines.

Issues had also arisen over the FEI wanting a government guarantee of the operating budget estimated at $25-$30 million (€18.2-21.8 million), according to sources that insisted on anonymity.

ESP would not seek such a guarantee from the state of Florida on the grounds that essential government services were being scaled back in a period of tight budgets and taxpayer dollars should not be used for horse sports.

Sports generally are not government supported in the United States, though government commitments have been used to help underwrite infrastructure projects for major events such as Olympics that would provide a legacy after the event.

The WEG was created in 1990 and is held once every four years as the championships of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting as well as para dressage.

ESP has spent tens of millions of dollars on new and upgraded facilities at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center to host thousands of horses and riders from around the world competing at WEF and GDF every week over several months every year.

This is the second time that ESP has pulled its bid.

The first time was because of opposition by the local government to development of equestrian facilities that raised doubts timetables could be met. But those political obstacles have mostly been overcome.

Several other prospective host cities in Europe also dropped out, leaving only the 1976 Olympic venue of Bromont about 50 miles (80km) east of Montreal, as the sole candidate. However, the FEI rejected its bid because of what the FEI said was a shortfall in government guarantees.

The bidding was reopened and additional candidates including London and Kentucky as well as Wellington were pressed by the FEI to make fresh bids. London quickly dropped out leaving the two United States venues and the Canadian facility the only remaining prospects.

The WEG has had a checkered financial history with Aachen, Germany in 2006 the most outstanding success story.

The Hague, Netherlands in 1994 was a financial disaster for the organizers; Rome stepped in at the last minute to host the event in 1998 after Dublin lost its prime sponsor, and Jerez de la Frontera, Spain in 2002 incurred substantial debt that taxpayers were paying off years later.

The 2010 Lexington WEG was marked by the highest ticket prices and hotel rates of any WEG, but still ran way over budget and had to be bailed out by title sponsor Alltech and others to keep the event going.

The 2014 WEG in Normandy, France is being funded by a mix of taxpayer funds and private sponsorship with the Lexington-based Alltech again the title sponsor.