Strong backing for WEG, but need for change acknowledged

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The FEI's director of Games and championships, Tim Hadaway, addresses the FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne. Photo: FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber
The FEI’s director of Games and championships, Tim Hadaway, addresses the FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne. Photo: FEI/Germain Arias-Schreiber

The FEI acknowledges that the FEI World Equestrian Games has evolved into a huge logistical and financial challenge.

It is clear that the wider equestrian community wants the event to remain at the pinnacle of the equestrian calender, but there is consensus that change is essential.

The issues around WEG were traversed during the opening session of the FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

It was acknowledged that, despite the many positives, including excellent sport and an enjoyable atmosphere, the multiple venues had amplified complexity and stretched financial and human resources, occasionally resulting in the loss of the original concept of uniting the equestrian family.

The thorough debriefing after last year’s WEG in Normandy, France, had resulted in many detailed operational recommendations, the FEI said.

These included knowledge transfer programmes and increased levels of liaison between the organising committee and the FEI throughout the planning stages of the event. A greater definition of requirements and technical specifications is also under way in order to achieve a successful and sustainable event which is attractive for future bidders.

Discussions traversed potential changes to the FEI disciplines and competition formats in order to increase the interest of future bid cities, the public, media and broadcasters.

The FEI’s director of Games and championships, Tim Hadaway, highlighted the magnitude of the Normandy Games – the biggest in WEG’s 25-year history.

There were 74 nations represented – a record 28 percent increase on previous editions.

More than 25,000 individuals, including 900-plus athletes, 3000 volunteers, 1750 media, and 250 officials, were accredited, and more than 1000 horses competed at five venues spread across the Normandy.

The event generated 46,300 hotel nights booked through the Organising Committee and 103,500 meals were served to the accredited population. The event also enjoyed record ticket sales, with almost 575,000 sold.

It achieved substantial media coverage, with more than 24,000 media mentions in France, 3173 hours of global broadcast coverage, a total television audience of 330 million, and 5.5 million views on the FEI YouTube channel.

The Games were also hugely successful on social media.

The total budget was €79.6 million, with an economic impact in Normandy estimated at €190 million and €368 million for France. The organising committee is expected to announce what Hadaway termed “a significant surplus” shortly.

Despite these positive developments, which had made the Games successful overall, the FEI acknowledged that some aspects of the event did not go well.

The debrief had identified that holding the Games over multiple venues had resulted in complex logistics and had led to increased costs.

Other problems included delays in the publication of key information and issues with IT systems, transport, security, and delays in issuing of ministry paperwork on departure of horses.

Insufficient amenities and services, along with cross country day traffic problems, had resulted in frustration for some spectators.

Matthew Wilson, from The Sports Consultancy, presented the outcome of a detailed strategic review of the Games, put in place by the FEI before Normandy.

The consultancy set out to explore how the flagship event could be re-aligned to meet its original objectives and to help equestrian sport continue to grow.

It found that 97 percent of those consulted agreed that the Games should remain as the pinnacle of the equestrian calendar, and 83 percent wanted to maintain all eight disciplines.

However, it had become clear that there was a strong appetite for change.

The FEI’s main challenge was to ensure that the event could be delivered sustainably and continue to thrive.
A key finding of the study was that the budget of the 2014 edition was considered by many as exceptionally large, and required extensive investment from the public sector. Few nations could afford to host such an expensive and complex event.

The following key conclusions and recommendations from the study were highlighted:

  • Reduction in the size of the competitor field;
  • Reduction in length of the event, nine to 10 days including two weekends was deemed the optimal length;
  • The current format was deemed too long to sustain media and spectator interest;
  • Re-design of the competition formats and schedule to encourage a more compact foot print;
  • Development and implementation of industry-leading sport presentation concepts that deliver to the non-equestrian fan needs.

Wilson concluded by outlining the clear strategic objectives the FEI should use as guidance through the proposed changes.

The Games must remain differentiated from other FEI events and remain a pinnacle of the equestrian calendar; it must help grow the sport and assist with delivering the global appeal required for Olympic status; and the budget for hosting the Games needed to be as attractive as possible to hosts and carry a lower financial and delivery risk.

Public sector investment must be achievable for a greater number of prospective hosts through delivery of a significantly improved return on investment, he said, adding that the Games must be commercially effective for the FEI.

The Games must also be accessible for and attractive to spectators both on venue and via broadcast to increase the stakeholder experience.

Discussion toward the end of the session traversed ticket sales, opening and closing ceremonies, compulsory qualifying elements, live television coverage and the optimum number of athletes and duration for the event.

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