Could the World Equestrian Games Come Back to the U.S.?

October 2, 2013–During the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY., I was asked many times by enthusiastic local residents — who were so proud of the event — whether it ever could come back to the Kentucky Horse Park.

The U.S. team parades at the opening of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY. | Photo ? Nancy Jaffer

Patiently, I explained it was unlikely (though I really thought it was impossible). Since the WEG debuted in 1990, I told them, it has been held in a different location every four years. But trying to let the Kentucky folks down easy, I suggested it might happen far in the future; I had heard at least one official mention a possible bid for 2022 as WEG 2010 drew to a close.

Circumstances can change, however, and over the summer, the FEI (the international equestrian federation) decided to reopen the bid process for 2018 because it couldn’t formally allocate the WEG to the only remaining candidate, Bromont, Quebec, Canada (where most of the 1976 Montreal Olympic equestrian events were held).

The FEI explained “the Canadian delegation was unable to provide the full public sector financial support that was required before an allocation could be made.”

As FEI President HRH Princess Haya put it, “without the necessary financial support, the FEI and the organizers would be exposed to an unacceptable financial risk.”

Rabat, Morocco; Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary and Wellington, Fla., the other cities that had expressed interest during November 2011 in hosting the 2018 WEG had dropped out, leaving Bromont standing alone. But the FEI decision to reopen the bidding could provide an opportunity for Kentucky to possibly give the WEG another go.

USEF CEO John Long | Photo ? Nancy Jaffer

“The second time is the charm,” quipped U.S. Equestrian Federation CEO John Long.

“Any country that has had the opportunity to put on an event that size before, learns lots of lesson about things they obviously would want to do all over again, and then some things they would probably like to change,” he explained.

“So we have that experience in Kentucky and I think that would be good experience to put to use again. We’ll have to wait to see.”

The WEG is such a massive undertaking that it can be daunting to do it nearly from scratch, so to speak.

“This is clearly the situation that Canada has found themselves in. When you bid, and the bid is contingent on financing of massive amounts of infrastructure to host an event this size, given the economy throughout the rest of the world and places where it is difficult to make that happen, it’s challenging,” John said.

“Any venue that has done something this size before has? A) The benefit of lessons learned and B) infrastructure in place and not having the need to go back to government or to figure out different ways of building new structures.”

John said the FEI has been forwarded “an expression of interest” for Kentucky by the USEF. It also sent the same on behalf of the Wellington, Fla., showgrounds that are the home of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. The deadline for that was Sept. 30.

“It doesn’t really obligate anyone; all it does is secure you a bid package. Kentucky has done that and also…Wellington also has asked the USEF to endorse their request for the bid package as well. We actually have two organizers in the U.S. that have expressed interest in securing and reading and understanding the whole bid document,” he said.

In addition to the U.S. cities, and Bromont, Great Britain has expressed interest, though it has not specified a host city. That must be done by November 15, when bid applicant questionnaires are due. The winning candidate will be announced at the FEI’s spring meeting. Already, however, precious months of preparation have gone by the wayside, unless the winner is Bromont.

It might be worth noting, however, that it took Quebecers more than three decades to pay off the $1.5 billion debt for the 19976 Montreal Olympics, whose stadium became known as “The Big Owe.” Memories of that are still relatively fresh north of the border.

There are few places in the world where an event the size of the WEG can be held at a single venue. Kentucky is one; Aachen, site of the 2006 WEG, is another. Normandy, France, home of the 2014? Alltech FEI WEG, has most competitions in Caen, but others are at several scattered venues outside that city.

Kentucky Horse Park Executive Director John Nicholson | Photo ? Nancy Jaffer

John Nicholson, the Kentucky Horse Park’s executive director, said the 2018 WEG concept, “is under active discussion, but that should not imply that a decision has been made.”

He cited “the great advantage the Kentucky Horse Park will have going into the future (is) because of the facilities that are in place. We would not have to do anything like the kind of build-out that we had to do prior to the 2010 Games. I think we’re in the information-gathering stage at this point. We could be ready in a relatively short time,” he continued, adding that if 2018 didn’t work out, there could be interest in 2022.

“Part of the fun of the discussion is what would we do differently, and there’s lots,” John Nicholson mentioned.

“That’s in no way saying that it (2010) wasn’t magnificent. Knowing now what we didn’t know then, I think we could make it even more magnificent. We’re confident we could do it at the park.”

Alltech founder Dr. Pearse Lyons | Photo ? Nancy Jaffer

A leading proponent of a return to Kentucky for the WEG is Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder of Alltech and a devotee of the WEG concept.

As he mentioned, “We have the experience, we have the people and not only that, we? probably have a business community, because of the success we had in 2010, which would embrace it in 2018 way, way more than 2010.

“To me, the logical solution to 2018 would be to have it in Kentucky. This event (the WEG) is really moving forward…we need to push it into tried and proven hands. If those tried and proven hands turn out to be France, put it into France; If those tried and proven hands turn out to be Germany, put it into Germany. If those tried and proven hands — and adding a little more internationalism to it — happen to be Kentucky, then I think FEI should be knocking on the doors of Kentucky.

“We have brought it to the attention of the government here in Frankfort (the state capital of Kentucky) and said, `We don’t think it’s a slam dunk that its going to Quebec,? and don’t you think it is time for you to throw your hat in the ring?’ The governor acknowledged our letter and I think his comment was `interesting.’ “

Pearse added, “We would be delighted to be behind it because it’s Kentucky; we’re Kentuckians.”

When I asked how it would be different from 2010, he quickly replied, “There would be no comparison, because we have experience. That (2010) was the first time we ever ran anything like this. Alltech has experience running this; we had 200 people out there during the course of the event.”

He called WEG 2010 “a game-changer for the state and the whole region. If we got (a score of) 8 out of 10 for the last games. I suspect we’d get 10 out of 10 for these.”

Opening ceremonies for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games | Photo ? Nancy Jaffer

At the same time, he emphasized, “I think it has to go through Frankfort. Having a sponsor in their back pocket, as it were, which they would have with Alltech and others, that should add to it. Last time, it cost $80-plus million to run the event. I would think this time it would cost less, and I believe you would get more of the companies stepping up and coming in for sponsorship.”

He pointed out that “by 2018, there will be more hotels in downtown Lexington. There’s going to be a lot of infrastructure there. Even the ambiance of downtown changed dramatically, post the 2010 games. I think you have a city and a mayor who would be very embracive of the whole thing.”

When I asked if he were going to push a bid, he explained, ” It has to come from the government, but we’ll be very supportive of it. I’d like somebody to say, `Let’s put the committee together and let’s go do it.’ “

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