The future of WEG: riders and organiser react
What could separate World Championships mean for the FEI disciplines?
THE FEI announced at the general assembly last week that it would accept bids from organisers wishing to host single-discipline World Championships in 2022.
Following a lack of “realistic” bids to host the next World Equestrian Games (WEG) in its current format, the FEI said it was to open the bidding process for single-discipline bids, although with preference given to multi-discipline bids (news, 22 November).
H&H asked riders, organisers and coaches their thoughts on the decision, and the future of WEG…
RICKY BALSHAW: ‘AN INCREDIBLE SHAME’
RICKY, who competed at the 2010 and 2014 WEGs in para dressage, winning silver at the former, has since retired but has taken up para reining, which he hoped might become part of WEG in future.
“This is absolutely appalling, and I don’t like using that word,” he told H&H.
“WEG is like a mini Olympics. It’s great for equestrian sport because you get people going there who are into dressage and they also watch some showjumping or reining; you get interest in multiple sports from people who had only been interested in one.”
Ricky believes being at a WEG helps riders attract sponsorship and exposure, and that the experience itself is a “fantastic” one for competitors.
“The team hotels are brilliant,” he said. “Normally at championships, you’re with your own team and that’s great, but at a WEG, you’ve got all the eventers, dressage riders and showjumpers, too, so there’s a real British team atmosphere, which now may not happen again.”
Ricky also said that para sport does not tend to get the same numbers of spectators as the able-bodied competitions do, so para dressage particularly benefits from the multi-discipline WEG approach.
“It generates interest; that’s one reason para dressage grew,” he added. “Hopefully they can find a way to do it; if athletes and the public can get behind it; we need as many voices as possible saying it’s wanted.”
ALEC LOCHORE ‘WAVING THE NATIONAL FLAG’
ALEC is event director of Blair Castle International Horse Trials, and organised the 2015 European Championships that were held at Blair. He has also officiated at WEGs, and was eventing manager for the 2012 Olympics and a technical delegate at Rio 2016.
“I completely understand the FEI’s decision,” Alex told H&H. “There have obviously been challenges with the current model, such as the finances, although I don’t believe it has to be as expensive as it is, but it’s sad this is what it’s come to.
“I like the concept of it, the whole festival atmosphere, which is what we also have with the multi-discipline Pony Club championships, which I help run. But if it doesn’t work, it’s a sensible decision to review it.
“If someone comes along with all the criteria and the funding, maybe WEG will happen again, but in the short and medium term, we’ve got to look at it again.”
Alec agreed with Ricky that one attraction of the current model is that spectators can watch and enjoy disciplines they may never have seen before.
“In Rio, we went to watch some trampolining and British athlete Bryony Page won silver,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about trampolining, but I didn’t have to. I was waving the flag and cheering, and I think it’s the same with, say, vaulting and reining; you don’t have to understand it to get behind the team.
“We are stronger together probably, but if the model doesn’t work, we need to change it — but I hope a multi-discipline solution can be found.”
DICKIE WAYGOOD ‘WE MUST BE FLEXIBLE’
BRITISH eventing performance manager and former British dressage chef d’equipe Dickie Waygood said whatever happens to WEG, “it must be sustainable”.
“If they have to adapt the strategy to do it, they should keep it flexible,” he told H&H.
“In an ideal world, it would be great to have everything in one venue, as in a WEG, but if they can be flexible, I can see no reason why it can’t work if championships are split.
“I could see dressage and showjumping easily being at the same venue, for example, and maybe some of the other disciplines together, too. To keep costs down and make it work, I think that’s the way forward.
“Then, if someone comes forward with a multi-discipline venue, they should take that option, if it’s viable, and if not, go down the route of keeping them separate.”
Dickie said he believes that as single-discipline European Championships are held at ready-made venues, such as Luhmühlen for eventing, he sees no reason this will not work for World Championships.
“I think we might even get more people through the doors and more bums on seats than if we try to do it all together,” he added.
“But to cover all bases, if we get a venue that says: ‘Here’s our business model and we can run all disciplines, obviously that should be considered, too.
“I’m definitely not writing off one venue for all, but to keep World Championships going, they should keep a flexible strategy.”
CIAN O’CONNOR ‘IT COULD BE BETTER’
IRISH showjumper Cian, who has competed at three WEGs, and won individual bronze and team gold at the 2017 European Championships, acknowledged that it can be hard to make running a WEG pay.
“So maybe if they’re split, it could be better,” he told H&H. “Sport evolves, life evolves, as does what’s expected at these events. Running WEG isn’t an easy job, as we’ve seen, but if they’re split, it might not have to be single disciplines. Maybe one venue could hold three or four, which might even be better as they can focus on those — and this might bring more money into more places.”
Cian, the rider representative on the FEI jumping committee, said in his view, the World Championships are “the pinnacle”.
“We’ve got the Olympics,
World and regional championships — and I grew up on the Nations Cup route — and they’re all important,” he said.
“But if the top riders don’t want to go to those shows, they become secondary, and the main thing we should be thinking about is how we avoid that. The FEI needs to put in effort, make the championships more prestigious — and money talks.
“This year at WEG, not all the best riders and horses were there, but a lot of riders do like the idea of a championships. I put more weight on them than on individual grands prix, but we shouldn’t look on other series and shows as a negative. The FEI now needs to be able to match [what other shows offer] – a rising tide lifts all boats.
“As a sport, we need to make sure we’re modern and proactive.”
The World Equestrian Games has featured all FEI disciplines together since 1990