A top-level gathering in Canada’s capital last week signalled a concerted push to get the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG) back on track, following a shock series of resignations from its organising committee late in April.
At the June 8 reception in Ottawa, government officials, including federal members of parliament and senators, met members of the 2018 WEG organising committee (COJEM) and senior representatives from the FEI and Equestrian Canada.
Organisers of the showpiece Games, to be held in Bromont, Quebec, have been pushing for financial support from the federal government to help stage the event. The Canadian Games would mark only the second time WEG has been held outside Europe.
The Games’s operational budget is estimated at $C72 million, with a further $C20 million in capital works also required.
Plans for the Games were dealt a blow late in April, when five COJEM members resigned, including chief executive Luc Fournier and board chairman François Duffar.
Fournier and Duffar were said to have departed in the hope of delivering a “necessary wake-up call” over their concerns that, without major changes and strong support from all partners and stakeholders, they would not be able to deliver the Games as planned.
Fournier, an experienced events manager, sounded a warning at the time in the regional newspaper, La Voix de L’Est, saying he had reached the conclusion that he would not be able to deliver a quality product under the current conditions. “It will take someone better equipped than me to do it. I had no option but to resign,” he said.
He appeared to lay some of the blame for the situation with the FEI, saying there were tensions. He said the world governing body had been asked repeatedly to ease its financing terms for the Games, apparently without success.
Fournier said funds from the Quebec Government had kept the Games effort moving, but international sponsors had largely been holding back, worried that the federal government had yet to commit funds.
The June 8 reception signalled a determination to put the staging of the Games back on track, following a restructure of COJEM.
Ahead of the gathering, the member of parliament for Brome-Missisqoui, Denis Paradis, addressed the Parliament and Senate, highlighting the significance of the 2018 Games, citing the economic benefit to Quebec, and the pride that would be brought to Canada.
Interim COJEM chief executive Rosiare Houde acknowledged that time and funding were key issues for the organising committee.
Houde said the remaining members of the board were working hard.
“We have been looking for people who can help us because the challenge is now two essences; one, time because we have time but not too much, and the second one is money.
He said members had gone to Ottawa to provide evidence that the Games were supported by the equestrian community in Canada, and to convince the federal government to back the event.
Houde said the reception went well. “I know most of the MPs are supporting us.”
COJEM’s strategic adviser, Susan Burkman, said: “I think we can overcome the challenges we have as long as we work very hard, we’re loyal to our goal, stay with it and keep a smile on our face and be big-hearted.”
FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez reiterated her organisation’s backing for the 2018 Games.
“Bromont has the right people on board and I think the venue is beautiful,” she said. “What we need now is for the government to support the event because it does require a major confidence from the government itself.”
Equestrian Canada also voiced its support.
“Equestrian Canada is very interested in making sure the Games take place and are a great success,” said board vice-president Tony Eames, who is also a member of COJEM.
“I’m an optimistic person by nature and if we can go ahead with the Games, and that is our intent, then we certainly have a commitment and obligation to make them the best Games ever and I believe we can do that.”
Equestrian Canada’s chief executive, Eva Havaris, said: “It’s a massive undertaking, it’s a massive challenge but it’s an important undertaking and I think as a country it would be incredible to host these Games.”
Equestrian Canada president and COJEM member Jorge Bernhard pointed to an economic impact study completed about a year ago which showed an economic impact of more than $C200 million to Canada. “And a viewership worldwide of a couple million people that will watch on different media that will bring great exposure to the province [of Quebec].”
Logistical planning to accommodate the expected 600 horses that will travel to Canada for the Games is already under way.
Accommodation for athletes, support staff, officials, and spectators could be met through the use of local condominiums, many of which would be unused at the time of the Games because it was the quiet season for Bromont, which is a popular ski resort. It is also only 45 minutes from Montreal.
At the time of the COJEM resignations late in April, it was reported that Games organisers were hoping for nearly $C9 million in federal support.