World Games for 2018–Where Now? What Format?

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Tryon International Equestrian Center. © Ken Braddick/dressge-news.com
Tryon International Equestrian Center. © Ken Braddick/dressge-news.com

July 22, 2016

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Several show grounds are considered to have existing physical structures and at least two with management capabilities to undertake on short notice the 2018 World Equestrian Games as host of championships of the seven international horse sports and para-equestrian governed by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI). All but one are tied to a title sponsor that competes with the FEI’s brand of choice.

Four are in North America–Tryon, North Carolina; Wellington, Florida, and Lexington, Kentucky in the United States and Calgary, Alberta in Canada.

In Europe, Aachen, Germany, host of the most successful World Games since their founding in 1990 as an event held once every four years, is at the top of the list of many in the Eurocentric sport.

Qatar, the Persian Gulf nation of arid desert and architectural spectacles, has much of the physical facility but as organizer of a tiny handful of international events each year requires considerable outside management help.

However, all but the Middle Eastern facility are currently tied–though the contract terms are not known–to Rolex, the luxury watch and sports timing company that was spurned by the FEI in favor of competitor Longines in a 10-year €100 million (US$110 million at today’s rates) deal signed in 2013. The Rolex agreements are understood to cover the show grounds and not specific shows.

Resolving the sponsorship issue is considered critical for the FEI to consider its options at a championship capable venue.

As the FEI has promised a review of the structure of the increasingly costly and unwieldy WEG some inside the sport speculate the collapse of the Bromont effort could provide an opportunity to split up the championships–the most talked about being the three Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping possibly together with driving that would use the same facilities and vaulting that requires an indoor facility. Endurance, reining and para would be separate events, under this scenario.

The current situation with the WEG is not without precedent.

Rome took over the Games for 1998 on two years’ notice after Dublin lost its prime sponsor, and the event that did not include reining or para was considered a success.

The FEI has yet to disclose the alternatives it is weighing–whether it will call for bids or opt for a proven location. The lack of funding for Bromont from the time of the award two years ago made preparation of a backup plan prudent, in the view of many show organizers, but the FEI said repeatedly it had no Plan B and was confident Canada would come through. It is not known whether the FEI was, nevertheless, preparing alternatives.

Dressage arena in the center of the Main Stadium at Aachen, Germany. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Dressage arena in the center of the Main Stadium at Aachen, Germany. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Two show grounds that insiders give the best chance of taking over:

–Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina, on which about $100 million has already been spent to construct a main arena capable of being expanded to seat more than 20,000 spectators, more than 1,100 permanent horse stalls, multiple competition and warm-up arenas all with Olympic quality footing, one of the largest covered arenas in the world that can be enclosed, a cross country course designed by Mark Phillips for the U.S. championships this fall and about a dozen on-site restaurants. Within about 45 minutes of the show grounds in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, are more than 35,000 hotel/motel rooms, plus, a significant number of college dorm rooms available nearby for officials and the media at relatively low cost. Charlotte international airport with direct flights to Europe by major carriers is an hour away. Core management would be that of the companion Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida that stages 12 weeks of jumping, dressage and para-dressage every winter–about 3,000 hunters and jumpers each week, about 400 horses for each of seven CDIs and three CPEDs, about three times the number of horses over two weeks of WEG. The governors of both North and South Carolina have pledged support.

–Aachen, Germany was the host of the 2006 World Games, considered the most successful since the event was created in 1990. The 74-acre (30Ha) venue’s two competition stadiums are permanent. Dressage and jumping were staged in the 40,000-seat main stadium in 2006 while vaulting and reining were held in the Deutsche Bank dressage stadium that has been expanded to seat 6,300 spectators. Eventing is staged every year, including cross country, and driving has its own dressage and cones arena with the marathon located in the same area as eventing cross country. The annual World Equestrian Festival accommodates up to 950 horses and draws as big a crowd as most WEGs–348,200 tickets were sold for the 10 days of competition this year. Well over a half million tickets were sold in 2006. The number of hotels, bed and breakfast and hostels is more than adequate in the Aachen area, though nightly rates in broom closet-sized rooms in the city have climbed to €160 (US$175) on peak nights and significantly higher for more spacious quarters. Aachen staged the European Championships of dressage, driving, jumping, reining and vaulting in 2015, as well as Eventing Nations Cup, all simultaneously and with no apparent hiccups.