The bid for WEG 2022: Let’s discuss it over lunch

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If I had a dollar for every twist and turn in the efforts to find hosts for the World Equestrian Games over the last decade, I’d have enough money for a very fine lunch indeed.

I’m talking way beyond a Big Mac with fries here. We’re talking the Ritz, with a very nice bottle of wine.

Samorin, in Slovakia, was seemingly on track as the only remaining bidder seeking to host the 2022 World Equestrian Games.

Its recent withdrawal has seen the world governing body for horse sport, the FEI, reopen the bidding process for the Games.

It seems that the FEI and the Samorin organisers could not reach agreement on some clearly decisive points and the bid folded.

We are now back in familiar territory.

The FEI president, Ingmar De Vos, in announcing at the organisation’s recent General Assembly in Uruguay that the bidding process would reopen, said: “We are confident there will be candidates, but these are complex Games and we need to make sure we do it right.”

The FEI is now seeking formal expressions of interest by January 31 next year, a first step in the process for any potential host.

It is, of course, all eerily familiar. Finding Games hosts in the last 10 years or so has been problematic.

Let’s be frank. The FEI doesn’t generally have hordes of potential hosts bashing down the doors of its Lausanne headquarters seeking the rights to host the Games.

Bids in recent years have come and gone like children on a merry-go-round. Some have got to the cusp, then faltered. At times, it hasn’t been pretty.

The white rearing horse outside FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The white rearing horse outside FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

De Vos is right, of course. The Games are complex. They are also costly to stage.

The FEI is right to demand high standards from organisers. The Games are its showcase event and it must be organised well.

It’s a pretty safe bet that, for most of the potential hosts that have been and gone over the last decade, they simply couldn’t make the numbers work.

Taxpayers, both regional and local, no longer have much appetite for paying for infrastructure that benefits only a few. Sports stadiums are a classic example. Local and national governments seem to struggle to get public buy-in for these expensive projects unless they are multi-use and the business case stacks up. It rarely does.

And therein lies the problem. The FEI wants certain financial guarantees from potential Games organisers (and that’s understandable), but the foot soldiers of the organising committees simply aren’t feeling the love from their wider community at home.

The ugly truth? Elected representatives and authorities don’t believe putting large wads of cash into expensive horse facilities is a win for voters and taxpayers.

That means that most Games organisers will likely have to stage, and pay for, the Games with only a modest amount of public money available, if any.

I would suggest that the number of bids that have fallen over in recent years shows that, commercially, this remains a step too far for most countries.

The FEI isn’t blind to this, but just because you can identify a problem doesn’t necessarily mean you can find a solution.  How can the cost of the Games be kept down?

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