Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, it’s off to WEG we go

Viking hands over the key to Ornano stadium to Norman.
Viking hands over the key to Ornano stadium to WEG mascot Norman. @ Normandie2014

Mirror,  Mirror, on the wall, what will make WEG the fairest of them all?

The seventh running of the World Equestrian Games, set to start in Normandy, France, next month, is intended to be the showcase for global horse sports.

We can all agree the Olympics are a big deal, but they involve only three equestrian disciplines and, let’s face it, the equine pursuits can be overshadowed by the other sporting dramas unfolding on the Olympic stage.

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is the shop window to equestrian sport that the FEI takes to the world. It is expected to enjoy a global reach of 500 million television viewers and represents an investment of public and private money of more than €75 million, although undoubtedly more cash is flowing to make the Games happen.

If all 400,000 tickets are sold in Caen, the revenue from this stream alone will amount to something close to €100 million.

An estimated 1200 journalists and 300 photographers will be reporting  on the action.

Yes, it’s a big deal, and the wider Normandy region will no doubt bask in the global attention coming its way.

Why then, was finding a host for the 2018 Games was such a fraught exercise?

The Games were only recently awarded to Bromont/Montreal in Quebec, Canada. Its successful bid followed a tortuous process in which potential contenders fell by the wayside one after the other and the FEI ended up reopening the bidding process after Bromont – at one stage the last city standing – could not meet the required public funding guarantees.

I think we can safely conclude that staging WEG is no walk – or should that be trot – in the park. The French incarnation has an organising committee of 100, let alone the raft of required officials and the 3000 volunteers needed to keep things running smoothly.

All this gives rise to an interesting question: How do we assess the success of WEG?

Countries measure their success in terms of their medal haul and placings, but it’s a much more complex equation when it comes to how the FEI, the organising committee, and the local townsfolk assess its merits.

So, here are the crucial factors I believe will ultimately judge the success or failure of WEG. In keeping with the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs theme – and the fact this is the seventh staging of WEG – I’m going to list seven areas, and assign a dwarf to each. Consider them, if you will, vertically challenged pillars of wisdom.

With apologies to Dopey, Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Happy, and Bashful:

Dopey in charge of anti-doping

Boy, it was tempting to put Doc in charge of the Clean Sport programme, but I’ve gone with Dopey. With a dwarf so laid back, you’ve got to wonder what he’s been smoking.  Drug infractions come up from time to time in most sports, but they’re particularly egregious when linked to the headline-grabbing events in any sporting code. One Olympic infraction is probably worth 10 infractions on a national stage. It doen’t look good for any sport to air its dirty laundry on the global stage. The Games have to be clean. The public don’t like doping, and they especially don’t like doping in horses.

Delivering value: Let’s not be Bashful about it

Everybody wants to see great horse sport, but we’re naive if we don’t measure the financial success (or otherwise) of the Games. I’m putting Cashful in charge here. Yes, I know his proper name is Bashful, but if Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders can mess with the seven dwarfs, why can’t I? We know that the staging of the Games involves around €75 million in private and public money, with ticket revenues already standing at around the same amount, with another 100,000 still to be sold. However, it is value for the sponsors that is crucial in this equation. Naming rights sponsor Alltech is pumping in around €10 million, so you can imagine it will be looking for a measurable return, especially in terms of exposure. For example, it might consider its mention in this report to be worth half a euro, perhaps more. The other sponsors need to get bang for their buck, too.

The long process in finding a venue for the 2018 Games perhaps shows that the formula isn’t quite right yet. The Games need great venues and packed crowds. The better the numbers ultimately look, the more likely it is that more nations and cities will vie for the right to stage it, and that can only be good. A lot rides on the success of the Normandy Games. Here’s hoping.

Grumpy is our main man in the media

For two weeks, WEG needs to be front and centre on the global sporting stage. This stuff can all be measured in this day and age: We’re talking about mentions on social media, news website coverage, headlines and column centimetres in the print media, television air time, and viewing audiences. To use the lingo, it needs to be “trending” well. WEG needs to be all over Twitter like a rash and getting shared plenty on Facebook. Why? All of this points to global reach and demonstrates real value to sponsors. The 1200 journalists and 300 photographers will be carrying WEG around the globe. A report this week suggests it will be televised in more than 200 countries. We can expect grumpiness if the baguettes aren’t fresh and the fridge isn’t fully stocked.

Doc is our pick for horse welfare and safety

With Doc being a medical dwarf and all, he’s the obvious choice to ensure the wellbeing of all partipicants. All reasonable steps are taken to minimise the risk to horses and riders but let’s face it, thundering around an eventing cross-country will never be totally risk-free. Likewise, vaulters and showjumpers are always at risk of a nasty tumble. The welfare issue at WEG will have a compelling dimension with endurance. The open letter from five veterinarians after  the Compiègne endurance ride in France in May amounts to distressing reading for all fans of the sport. I suspect that officials will be all over this event like a rash. I can’t imagine any endurance race in the history of the sport coming under as much scrutiny. The new FEI endurance rules are in place. Let’s hope they work.

Happy is charged with delivering a true spectacle

Central to the success of any WEG is the need to stage a sporting spectacular. We’re hoping for breathtaking skills, enthralling and close competition, and a great atmosphere. In short, the Games need to be inspiring and the medals decided in the true spirit of sportsmanship. It would be nice, too, to see some of the lesser nations on the medal table. A memorable and successful WEG also bodes well for equestrian sport’s ongoing inclusion as an Olympic discipline.

Sleepy is looking after the legacy issues

There is much more talk these days around the legacies of major sporting events. No city or nation likes to spend millions, or even billions, on huge sporting events, only to be left with facilities that amount to white elephants and a huge public debt. Sporting facilities are the most obvious legacy, but others are also important. Perhaps it’s a long afterglow in tourist numbers or a jump in local participation in sports. Getting the legacy side of a big sporting event right is important, in that it helps persuade other cities or nations to put up their hands to play host. It’s an important job, Sleepy. Wake up!

Sneezy is our man in quarantine

Mont Saint-Michel. Photo Diliff/ Wikipedia
Mont Saint-Michel. Photo Diliff/Wikipedia

The horse movement issue ain’t that sexy, but it’s important. The FEI has long recognised the need to make it easier to move the world’s elite sport horses around the globe. Much progress has been made in this area, with delegates to the World Assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) last May backing the concept of the “high health, high performance horse”. It is generally recognised that quarantine requirements and movement restrictions are among the biggest factors impeding the growth of top-level horse sport. While many of the 1000 horses expected at WEG will be making a quick jaunt across an international border or two in air-conditioned horse trucks, some face very long flights. It’s an area I suspect the public won’t appreciate so much, but these big international equestrian events will thrive only if top horses can move freely. Like the horses, Sneezy should have got his flu jab. He’s learnt his lesson and is on the job.

Curiously, I’ve got no roles on offer for Snow White or the evil Queen. It’s a shame, really, because Normandy’s Mont Saint-Michel would have made the perfect castle for the evil Queen. That said, it’s nice that the dwarfs will get their moment to shine.


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