The fu­ture of WEG: riders and or­gan­iser re­act

What could sep­a­rate World Cham­pi­onships mean for the FEI dis­ci­plines?

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - By ELEANOR JONES

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

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