Workers are battling round the clock in “multiple shifts” to get Tryon International Equestrian Centre (TIEC) serviceable on time for the World Equestrian Games, with the first intake of horses is due at Greenville Spartanburg airport on September 2nd.
In an astonishing “first” for a WEG, operations director Sharon Decker briefed local media last week with an assurance the Games were still on, following months of speculation about poor ticket sales, acres of unfinished facilities, and a rumor that the FEI had even considered re-locating some disciplines to other venues.
In a video interview posted at the beginning of August, Mark Bellissimo, the Managing Partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners, stood in the facility’s international pavilion that is to be the three story hub of WEG hospitality events. With the opening ceremonies one month away, the building had no walls and the view outside to WEG’s main outdoor arena that is to seat 20,000 was a blur of red clay construction.
While organizers have been open about the abandonment of projects such on-site hotels, problems with other late-running key issues have been kept quiet.
Horse-Canada.com has seen a leaked memo from North Carolina safety head Gregory Atchley to the state department of agriculture advising that the veterinary treatment facility was not slated for its final inspection until August 28th.
In another memorandum, issued by TIEC to its 30-strong veterinary team on August 24th, it emerged that many duties are yet to be allocated. The veterinary team is under particular pressure because the first day of competition (September 12th) sees the endurance ride, eventing and para-dressage horse inspections, first day competitions in dressage and reining and a flight arrival of jumping horses.
Tryon, the new lifestyle resort, took over as host for the 2018 WEG with high hopes after Bromont dropped out 18 months ago. By now, its promoters will have found out that running simultaneous world title events in eight sports, most of which are out of their regular experience at Wellington, Florida, is a license to burn millions in unrecoverable cash.
Unlike the past two WEGs, Tryon 2018 has no overall title sponsor. A large number of contributing corporations are listed on its website, though discipline sponsors have only emerged in the past two weeks – Helgstrand Dressage, Mars Inc Eventing and Longines Jumping.
Most tickets are still available for purchase but there is still no ticketing information for the opening ceremony on September 11th, and organisers took to Facebook yesterday to say they would issue information “as soon as possible”; some competitors have told Horse-Canada.com they have not received any instructions for athletes arriving in time to participate in that parade.
A local media outlet reported that TIEC asked county law enforcement to halve its planned manpower “directly proportional to what organizers were seeing in ticket sales.” Capt Lowell Griffin from the county sheriff’s office was quoted as saying this would save 7,000 man-hours and $200,000.
“We have adjusted our staffing numbers based on days that are higher in volume versus days that are lower in volume according to ticket sales,” commented Ms Decker. “We are projecting 300,000 to 400,000 people to be in attendance across the two weeks.
“Our preparations continue and we are working multiple shifts throughout the day. We feel confident that we will be ready for the Games.”
The public parking lot is off-site, understood to cater for just 5,000 vehicles a day with shuttles to the venue. Belated advice that it will cost $20 per day has drawn strong criticism from ticket holders. Some people have taken advantage of a forum thread on the Chronicle of the Horse website to re-sell tickets – many offering packages at a loss, citing changes of plan or problems with accommodation.
TIEC’s strict policy about what spectators may bring – including limitations on food, water bottles, sun-screen and weather protective clothing, all in compulsory transparent bags – was relaxed two weeks ago only after being widely criticized on social media.
Meanwhile, the US endurance community has taken to social media about the perceived betrayal of their classic American sport. Piroplasmosis control measures have involved extensive track-widening which will play to the fast riding, peloton riding style of the UAE, who are sponsoring the ride under the Meydan banner. Sheikh Mohammed is understood to have donated $5million two months ago to enable the trail works.
Gregory Atchley’s memo also states that USDA officials would still prefer the 40 confirmed piro-positive horses entered in the endurance to be barred. But he states that as one of piro-positives belongs to a member of the UAE royal family, they expect “political pressure” to waive this. The trail was only signed off by USDA on August 29th.
Fears have also been expressed about the likely conduct of the ride itself, by the American Endurance Ride Conference in a letter to USEF and by the Swiss Equestrian Federation, who met the FEI endurance department.
With the majority of past WEGs running at a loss – The Hague, 1994, actually filed for bankruptcy – the FEI commissioned a review by specialist consultants after Normandy 2014. Recommendations to limit competitor numbers and reduce the overall time-frame to nine days have not yet been applied.
There is no notified bidder for WEG 2022, Samorin in Slovakia dropping out of contention last year after declining to sign the organizer’s agreement with the FEI. A FEI spokesman said it would not deciding what to do about 2022 till the FEI bureau meeting in November.