WEG2010: The Grass Is Always Greener….

The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side!

It’s a month now since the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington staged it’s closing ceremony, closed the gates and proverbially let the tumble weed blow across the Kentucky Horse Park. These games have not been without controversy, and much has been written to slate the games  since their conclusion. This could easily make you think they were a complete disaster. I for one, say, “Not so”

I don’t live in Lexington, Kentucky or the USA, so I’m a little surprised I haven’t been more cynical about the games, but given scale of the task undertaken, and the order of magnitude putting on these games has been compared to any of it’s predecessors, you have to admire the steely determination that the organisers have shown in getting it away.

WEG 2010 | The First Time For All Disciplines in One Venue

These games were the first to host all disciplines in one place, which on the face of things you’d expect would bring untold advantages. Well yes there are, but also plenty of additional challenges for logistics, administration, etc, etc, etc.

If you look at the real problems or failures experienced during these games, most just show lack of experience in running an event of this size, which you can understand to a certain degree. Years ago (more than I care to remember) I used to think I was ‘invincible’ and could do anything. Three successful businesses later, and one or two not so successful ones, I soon realised the best way to succeed is to employ people who are good at what you are not.

My point here is that the sheer magnitude of this event was greater than anything the horse park had seen before, which in itself brings special challenges, and the best way to combat these is to bring in people used to these special challenges, something I think the organisers over looked. Badminton & Burghley for example are two of the largest outdoor sporting events in Europe, run on a largely volunteer workforce, yet little if any of their expertise was utilised here.

Catering is something that I’ve often heard mentioned as being a sticking point about the games, too little choice, too high a price and too low a quality, for the ‘world championships’. In many respects, running an event of this nature you need to think of it a little like a wedding, and think to yourself “what will people remember?” The food is always something they remember, it’s either Bland, Bad, or Excellent, so there is really only one option, and that is to satisfy the consumer with a variety of options, especially if they are subjected to inflated prices.

Parking | A Favourite Gripe

Traffic & parking are two favourite topics for complainers, and whilst traffic didn’t cause anywhere near the problems you see at Badminton, the parking was a highlight for many keep fit fanatics! Most had over half a mile to walk, and I know several people resorted to cycling several miles as part of their daily routine in getting to the park. For me there’s no doubt that the parking was far from ideal and I think this is, in part, due to the issues brought about by having an organising committee that does not have control of the venue. You end up with compromises that suit no one, and annoy everyone. Tim & Georgina Phillips suffered similar problems running the 2003 Europeans at Punchestown Racecourse.

WEG Stabling | More Than Adequate

Team GBR, came out on top of the medal table, and for a nation usually noted for ‘not complaining’, they sure did complain! Most notably I remember about having to paint their stables when they arrived! I can assure you there was absolutely no need to paint their stables, this was pure vanity and “these are world class horses, you know” mentality. The Kentucky Horse Park has plenty of very suitable event stabling, as good as any 3 day event I’ve been to. In many respects far better than those at, say, Badminton! Bear in mind the British are very used to coming to the horse park for Rolex and I’ve never heard any of them complain about poor stabling before. Of course painting the stables could be psychological, in which case it probably worked, but let’s maintain that great British reserve, and not complain about every finite detail chaps!

These large championships run a ‘test’ event in the preceding year to do exactly that, test the venue and iron out any wrinkles, one of the things I remember coming out of the test event was the driving competitors providing legitimate reason to have their stabling much closer to the venues, however the organisers saw fit to move these even further away for WEG, without rhyme, reason or consultation.

Artwork On The Legacy Trail

Finances of the organising committee have been the subject of much discussion and criticism, with some collision course cashflow just prior to the start of the games, that could easily have derailed it, and some clear short falls logged in their IRS fillings. Cash and budgets for the games seem to have gone in all sorts of directions, some of which has clearly been less than prudent or in keeping with good governance, often at the expense of some of the legacy items, like the now rather sparse artwork that adorns the ‘legacy trail’, a beautiful cycle/walk from downtown Lexington out to the horse park. Apparently the budget had made provision for much more artwork of various types but this dried up or got repatriated. At least the town is left with the most fabulous cycle path that anyone can enjoy.

As far as finances, and financial success of the games goes, I do take sucka from the fact Alltech, the title sponsor, who tripled their intended financial support, expect to see a $100M return on their investment. Not something to be dismissed lightly in these tough economic times, and quite a bold statement. It’s good to see someone coming away from the WEG financial crisis smiling having helped underpin the games, rather than undermine them like so many have done by leeching the coffers.

I didn’t attend the games, but did spend numerous hours glued to the TV or computer following the action along with friends, including an entire saturday of cross country action – ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ at the ever surprising riding distasters that unfolded over the course of the day. I suppose my biggest, and probably only disappointment on the competition front, was the oversight of not watering the cross country warm up (see top picture). 6 kilometres of track is carefully watered yet 10 acres of critical warm space is left baked hard like a mississippi mud pie!

WEG Legacy: The Driving Course | The Most Popular Event

‘Putting on the show’ is where the Americans excelled themselves. The sporting spectacle delivered at WEG really was straight out of the top drawer, not only in the eventing discipline but also many of the others, including the driving, a sport that generally struggles to attract large crowds, yet here drew the largest daily crowd of the games. Yet surprisingly the organisers struggled to fill the stadium for a number of other very popular events like show jumping. When you compare the ticketing arrangements, costs and general strategy you can see where the cracks started to appear, and why some events were more successful than others. Watching the eventing discipline would have cost you over ¬£200, about a 3 times the cost of going to Badminton or Burghley, yet the level of competition is not quite as high at a WEG. Over all ticket sales were successful and in an odd sort of way the economic downturn helps domestic events like this (a little know fact, but both Badminton and Burghley experience growth during recession).

Confusion, frustration and annoyance over ticketing was not limited to the public, and press accreditation was overly complex and exacerbated by red tape, politics, and personalities. Having worked at numerous large scale events over the last 10 years, one thing that stands out as an easy win is “look after the press, and the press will look after you”. This was a clear oversight at WEG with a relatively spartan media facility, no lunch laid on, poor access to information,  and little in the way of ‘go out of my way assistance’.

More WEG Legacy | The New Alltech Arena

Inspite of all this I can honestly say, the Americans should be very proud of themselves, (they’re American so they probably will be). They really did put on the best show we have seen for a WEG, and the Kentucky Horse Park is firmly on the map as one of the best equestrian sporting venues in the world. As any economist will tell you, diversity is the key to success for any community, and the horse park is now less reliant on it’s thoroughbred roots, with more variety now possible at this 5 star venue…

Yes there were problems, Yes there was controversy, Yes security was all topsy turvey, Yes things should have been organised a darn sight better, but over the coming months and years all of this will be over shadowed by memories of:

  • the masterful Totilas, 
  • the Germans falling about all over the cross country course, 
  • the Canadians winning eventing silver, 
  • The Americans losing eventing silver
  • the biggest crowd turning out for the driving marathon, 
  • Team GBR sweeping the medal table, and putting itself firmly in spotlight for pure dressage, 
  • “Mark Todd, Yes It’s Mark Todd”

In Britain, I fear an attempt to run WEG in 2018 would be far less successful, as we lack real leadership and vision for such projects, as we are discovering in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics.

Where were you when Totilas won those World Championship Medals…….?

Amateur event rider, aspiring photographer. Technologist by day.

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