“We are truly sorry Ceri Kennedy. And everyone. We told everyone to come as early as possible, and we tried our best to make things smooth… Well it is obvious if you look at this Facebook page so [sic] it was not the case for many people. We are sorry.” Believe it or not, this in its entirety is the grudging non-apology to the thousands of Haras du Pin refugees posted on the official Alltech WEG Facebook page on Sunday (August 31st).
If any further evidence was required that WEG is a rampaging dinosaur – both in size and concept – and must be euthanized immediately after Bromont 2018, this is it. This event is too big to pull off from scratch unless you are Aachen.
The paucity of contrition by the French in charge is bad enough. Equally unforgivable is that we haven’t heard a peep from the FEI. The FEI nominally has ownership of these championships, but where was/is its supervision? One imagines so much emphasis has been put on the equine facilities, they simply ran out of time to consider spectators.
Does the FEI have so little control, too, that they can’t stop the French further insulting the equestrian community through flippant utterances like the above?
Why are people who diligently planned trips months ago and paid thousands of dollars to cross oceans expected to face this lottery upon arrival? Stand by, I guess, for more cavalier instructions to bring incontinence diapers to D’Ornano this week, in case the bathrooms flood again.
By now, just about everyone will be aware of the chaos in Normandy, which makes the previously regarded (W)orst (E)ver (G)ames, The Hague 1994, look like a slickly-honed military tattoo.
Chat-rooms are teeming with horror stories from Caen and Haras du Pin. It was just as bad at Sartilly for the endurance. I brought my car over from the UK so as to plan my route the day before, but should have saved my time – and gas – and gone to watch Valegro. On race-day itself (August 28th), the narrow rural roads were jammed solid too, making many viewing points inaccessible, unless you had planted yourself along the sea-front at Jallouville hours before even the front-runner Sheikh Hamdan was expected.
No attempt was made to arrange one-way traffic systems or reserve routes for crew cars. British rider Annette Masterson had to slow down appreciably after losing a shoe and was over-time by just 40 seconds. Why didn’t she call the farrier? She did, but he couldn’t get through the gridlock.
There was a VIP tent branded Meydan (funny: I thought they withdrew from WEG sponsorship due to perceived conflict of interest) but for sustenance, the rest of us had the choice of burger or burger. Mine was opaque, as if it had been put in water and boiled since Tuesday, but I was so hungry I overcame the gagging reflex and somehow forced it down.
And did anyone wonder why just one Spanish rider appeared on the podium at Caen for the endurance team gold presentation on Friday, in the break during the kur? The rest of them were trapped in a shuttle bus with a driver who simply got lost.
This French farce has been a particularly rude shock to we Brits. We normally find any excuse to pop over the Channel to attend the fabulous annual shows and three-day events in Paris, Chantilly, La Baule, Cannes, Pau, Saumur or Le Lion d’Angers, where I have never once worried I might succumb to dysentery or malnutrition. Even when the weather is bad, these established events still exude a certain style. Spectator food is simple at Pau, but it’s always a high spot to lunch on the ample supplies of scrumptious artisan breads, pate, fromage, oysters and wine.
The bizarre selection of Normandy is very similar to what happened in The Hague. Instead of concentrating the competitions around an established multi-sport hub (as with Aachen and Lexington), the FEI and host federation pushed the self-destruct button. Worse still, France chose not only a bunch of untried venues, but a region that is already a tourist magnet in August, with hotels and eateries under pressure because of the easy-to-predict 70thanniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings.
In theory, running all sports in one basket should result in economies of scale, but it’s been proved time and again that the opposite in fact occurs.
Only a tiny minority of equestrians are interested in watching two or more sports. The FEI has kept no record of cross-over ticket sales at previous WEGs, which tells you quite a lot. At Normandy, the opportunity to sample several disciplines was greatly reduced because the core venues were hours apart.
Twenty-first century horse people are tribal; Prince Philip, who advocated a one-off WEG back in the early 1980s, came from a culture of multi-faceted horsemen that no longer exists.
It’s long overdue for world title events to revert to single or dual discipline venues with proven organisational expertise. Apart from bringing iconic venues like Spruce Meadows, Burghley, Barcelona or Rotterdam back into the world title mix, we could embrace the fabulous newer facilities not imagined when WEG was inaugurated, such as Wellington and Doha, whose chances of staging a summer WEG are kiboshed by climate and/or the requirement to accommodate disciplines way outside their experience.
If being at Haras du Pin gave spectators more of a buzz than attending the Rolex or Badminton, it had nothing to do with being part of a major festival. It was simply the “rush” you felt after finally battling your way in!