I am sitting at the showjumping juggling a laptop on my knee typing up this report. I think it might be a bit grumpy as I feel a moan coming on. We head out tonight on the overnight ferry, then on up to Burghley to hopefully see some fabulous Kiwi success. Surely, then, I should be happier?
The Normandy experience has been very mixed. The most outstanding feature of the event has been the amazing display of horses. Beautiful horses – what we are all here for. There are also some extremely talented riders. Watching them endeavour to become world champion has been a privilege and mostly thoroughly enjoyable.
Equestrian fans from all over the world have travelled for hours, if not days, in every form of transport imaginable to watch their heroes.
I think the eventing fans, especially, have been done a huge disservice.
I would imagine there are many Kiwis who had wished they had invested the thousands of dollars spent getting here in a bigger television instead. The horror stories I have been hearing about their endeavours to get to the cross country just keep continuing.
Some ended up seeing an hour at the end, but at least catching our two fabulous clear rounds. Others gave up and went back to their hotels to watch it on TV. Any that were not fit and active, or with some form of disability, found it damn near impossible. I heard of a tour company which advised their elderly passengers that they would be better to stay at the hotel for the day rather than try to come to the cross country.
I heard of people who just pulled into random paddocks after sitting in the same place for hours, trusting their car wouldn’t be towed away or run over by a combine harvester, and walking to the venue. People walked from Argentan to the venue – a mere 14-kilometre stroll. The shuttle trains they put on had about 700 people on them but how many buses did they have to take them from Argentan to the venue? Two. There were buses there to pick up VIPs and officials, leaving with just two or three people in them. People pleaded with the bus drivers to let the children on the bus, or the pregnant women, but the bus driver insisted they had to have the right pass and drove off regardless.
I heard of people taking 5.5 hours to do a trip that took them 50 minutes the day before. Of course, during that time toilet stops were needed. There were no toilets but we think there may be a great deal of growth in the bush and paddocks in the next year, thanks to all the unplanned “fertiliser”.
There were no shuttles out of the cross-country venue until 4:30. That made it hard for some that had to leave early – or in one case, a person I met who elected to leave early as she was so upset by the state of the horses coming into the finish exhausted. She said she saw many horses who looked more tired than Tim Price’s Wesko, but who were not pulled up by the officials. She had to stand on the road and flag down a passing car to get back to Argentan.
Our Team New Zealand Supporters Facebook group page was invaluable to so many. We had advised people to pack their own lunches – great advice. We heard of one lad who offered to get in the queue to get a pizza as he wasn’t as interested in the horse action as the rest of his group. Two hours later he came back with the pizza, having queued all that time.
From the shambles of the ticketing from the start, the tickets during the event were also a joke. A group I know got into Haras du Pin on Thursday with one dressage ticket between three. They were going to use a rotation system or watch it on the big screen. They presumed that there would be people checking tickets into the grandstand. No, the group of three sat there all day in the half empty stand enjoying the dressage.
Then, people starting turning up to walk the cross country as per the “rules”, where the course was only open for walking between 5 and 7:30. They were told they could use their cross country tickets to gain entry. The gatekeepers were very confused at that and there were many arguments until it was sorted.
However, the course had been walked by thousands during the day – there was no way that they could police it when people walked the course, and there were no attempts. The cross country tickets were not scanned. You could have photocopied the same ticket 100 times and used those; they would not have known.
Earlier, I watched the chief executive of the organising committee being interviewed on FEI TV. In my view, he glossed over the issues, saying that they only had to use the tractors a few times to pull cars out of the car park. He was proud of the “fact” that there were 50,000 people at Haras du Pin. The interviewer let him off the hook completely. No questions on the traffic issues or the inadequate facilities at the venue.
I saw him getting what appeared to be a tougher interview on French television, but unfortunately my French wasn’t good enough to understand what was going on.
The FEI should also be ashamed of what was supposed to be its flagship event. There has been considerable talk about how it will work in four years time in Canada’s Bromont, a rural-based venue from what we have heard. It is a huge logistical challenge for any country. I am coming around to thinking that it should be run at well-established venues that have shown they can cope. My suggestion would be for the World Equestrian Games to be run at Aachen and Kentucky, alternating.
For many of us, this was our first World Equestrian Games. Comparison by others to Kentucky have seen France’s organisational skills being belittled. One wit suggested they couldn’t organise a croissant fight in a patisserie. One journalist I spoke to, another WEG first-timer, said that she had been scarred for life and, if it was this bad in a “developed” country, she had decided not to even bother going to the Olympics!
Wifi always gets under pressure at the big events. We put up with that. However, it was dire here, at various times, breaking down completely. The power cut after the eventing showjumping was the last straw for many. On Sunday we had full wifi access from the grandstand and it worked most of the day, luckily. Today, it has gone for about half an hour so far then been off for the rest of the morning.
One issue for the media was the lack of information. There was a few emails sent now and then to update us, but if you wanted to find out what was happening, the best option was to go to the main stadium at d’Ornano and read it on the white board. (And then go back and check it later as it may well have changed). Not very helpful when you are at other venues. We did get some emails. Some were in French only. Some had a combination of French and English. On arriving back to the main media centre on the Sunday after being at Haras du Pin for three days, I find a pamphlet inviting media to predict who would win the eventing gold medal. It closed on Friday. There were no such invites at the media centre in Haras du Pin Too bad, my prediction was wrong anyway.
While I had the luxury of not having to use the media transport service, some my colleagues had all sorts of problems in doing so. One journalist told me she caught the shuttle from d’Ornano to Haras du Pin, only to find herself transported to a carpark on the other side of Caen. The bus driver did not speak English and they had a hard job getting him to take them back to d’Ornano Stadium, having given up getting him to drive them to Haras du Pin. Once back at the stadium, the media organisers managed to get them into a lovely Land Rover and they had a comfortable trip out – luckily this was on a dressage day so there was not too much of a delay for them once they were heading in the right direction.
Yes, it has been a shambles. Yes, the organisation has been dire. But there have been some fabulous things, too, and would I have missed it? No way. I have had a great time with some wonderful people. I have made new friends and strengthened relationships. I have laughed, cried, yawned and at times skipped with excitement. I haven’t slept that much and I’ve nearly worn out my phone, keyboard, a pair of boots, and my shoes. I’ve also eaten some fabulous food (especially the cheese and pastries) and have drunk some lovely wine.
One of the best things about travelling is that the little things that go wrong eventually get turned into fabulous memorable stories, and people can laugh about them. I hope this happens to all those who walked 14 kilometres or sat on a bus for five and a half hours. On that basis, there are going to be many people having lots of laughs!