FEI World Equestrian Games provide a lesson in logistics

The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) undertook an immense logistical challenge for the 2018 World Equestrian Games. SportBusiness asks what other federations could learn from their experience.

In September, the biggest names in horse sports boarded aeroplanes in airports across the globe for their flights to the FEI World Equestrian Games, being held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina.

Indeed Ingmar de Vos, president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), described the 34 flights from Europe, Dubai and South America as “the largest commercial airlift of horses in history”. He said: “Only wartime shipments of horses have come close to this, so the military precision involved in the logistics was incredible.”

The horses, guests of Emirates SkyCargo, touched down at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina and in Miami, Florida, before completing the last leg of their journey by road. As well as the horses, transport agents Peden Bloodstock and the Dutta Corp arranged for the transportation of 123,500 tonnes of equipment from Europe alone.

The freight carried included saddles, bridles, rugs and grooming kits, wheelbarrows and pitch forks, horse shoes and all-terrain studs, as well as 51,000 kilos of feed, in-flight snacks and 20 litres of water per horse.

Welfare in travel

Certainly, the FEI has some unique considerations when organising its competitions and choosing host cities. While there are numerous factors, the most important one will always be the well-being of the equine athletes according to Áine Power, the FEI’s deputy legal director.

“The first consideration is always horse welfare,” she says. “One of the FEI’s four key values is ‘Horse First’, so the organiser must be able to satisfy the FEI that the welfare of the horse will be at the forefront of their planning. After that, we need to ensure that the bid is compatible with the FEI’s other core values: ‘Perform as One’, ‘Fair and Equal’ and ‘For Today and Tomorrow’.”

The FEI has jurisdiction over about 4,500 events each year, but it only controls the bidding processes for the major international competitions. It has allocated the FEI World Cup Finals for the disciplines of jumping and dressage up to 2021, with the Swedish city of Gothenburg hosting in 2019 and 2021, and Las Vegas in 2020. It recently launched the bidding process for the FEI World Cup Finals for jumping, dressage, vaulting and driving from 2022 to 2024 and for the FEI European Championships for Seniors for 2021 and 2023. These events will be allocated in spring 2019 by the FEI Bureau, the board that comprises leading figures such as De Vos, vice-presidents and figures from the sport’s eight disciplines, including the chair of the athletes’ committee.

The road towards hosting an FEI event begins with the interested party accessing the FEI’s online bid platform, which outlines the key requirements and benefits associated with hosting the event in question. Applicants are typically requested to complete an online questionnaire where they provide information on their experience as an organising committee.
Once an application is submitted in full the applicant will sign a hosting agreement that sets out the allocation of rights and responsibilities among the FEI and its organising committee. The complexity of the document depends on factors such as whether there are existing sponsorship rights to consider.

When the agreement is completed and signed by the bidder and its National Federation, the application is then considered in detail by the FEI (in terms of the veterinary, legal, communications and commercial factors) and the relevant discipline technical committee. For larger FEI Championships and major FEI Finals, the FEI invites the bidders to the FEI headquarters in Lausanne to make a presentation to the FEI evaluation commission.

The commission then prepares a written report on the various bids – taking into account the sporting, veterinary, media/communication, financial and legal considerations – and makes an official recommendation. The FEI Bureau then makes the final decision on which city or region will host the event.

Balancing experience

Power adds that the breadth of competitions available means the federation can build strong ties with a large number of regions, which can develop from hosting small-scale events to major inter-continental championships.

So while major international cities and experienced sporting hosts such as Paris or Barcelona – which this year held the FEI World Cup Finals for Jumping and Dressage and the Longines FEI Nations Cup Finals, respectively – there are also opportunities for less well-established regions. For example, in recent years the FEI World Jumping Challenge has allowed less-developed equestrian nations, such as Uzbekistan, Algeria and Bulgaria, to host international events.

“It is a question of trying to balance the experience of our existing organisers while also encouraging new regions and new organisers to come forward and bid in order to grow the sport,” she says. “The advantage that the FEI has in this regard is the wide range of championships and series across various levels within our portfolio.

“For example, we have bid processes for the Junior, Young Rider, U25 and Young Horses Championships where the infrastructural requirements are lower than a major senior championship. This can be a good way for new organisers to get involved in hosting an FEI championship event for the first time.”

New hosts can benefit from transfer of knowledge tools such as the FEI Knowledgebase, an online advice and guidelines tool for organisers, which gives the Local Organising Committee access to information and intelligence from previous Games, including past event debrief reports, template documents, venue and field of play plans and photos.

Different relationships

As well as welcoming the emergence of new bidding regions, the partnership between the FEI and its event hosts is changing. Power notes an openness to different relationships with different cities depending on their capabilities, resources and ambitions.

She adds: “We now very much view the relationship between the FEI and the organisers as a partnership rather than a rights-holder/rights-acquirer relationship. The aim is to really understand the framework that the organiser is working within and adapt the FEI’s approach accordingly, rather than vice versa.

“The FEI acknowledges that each organiser or bidder has different advantages and challenges. It is not a question of applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The FEI is now happy to work on a more bespoke basis with bidders and organisers in order to deliver an event that is a success for all parties and works to the strengths of the respective organisers.”

While the relationship between the governing body and its event hosts is not ‘one size fits all’, there is clearly a blueprint for how duties and responsibilities will be split in the period between allocation and the competition itself. The organising committee is responsible for venues, all horse and human athlete accommodation, spectator and media facilities, as well as all associated services and operations from veterinary to security and catering.

There are a number of areas where responsibility is shared, such as marketing, digital content and sponsorship. In terms of broadcasting, the organising committee provides host broadcast facilities and services but the FEI retains, sells and manages broadcast rights working through its partners, the European Broadcasting Union and IMG.

The FEI oversees all competitions, appointing FEI-accredited officials and working in close partnership with the organising committee’s sport management teams. The federation also resources and manages horse and athlete anti-doping services, working in partnership with the host nation’s national anti-doping agency.

In terms of measuring and monitoring progress in the years, months and weeks leading up to the event, a masterplan is developed by the organising committee with clear milestones and deliverables. That plan is approved by the FEI and monitored by the federation’s games operations department.

Hands-on role

Of course, the bigger the event, the greater the interest and exposure and the more elements to consider. The quadrennial FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) is the sport’s most diverse event as it holds championships for all eight disciplines and attracts athletes, spectators and broadcast viewers from around the world.

Over the course of its 28-year history, the WEG has been staged in the established European equestrian markets of Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany and France, as well as in the US cities of Lexington, Kentucky and, this year, in Tryon, North Carolina.

Tim Hadaway, the FEI’s games operations director, notes that several factors have led to the federation taking more of a hands-on role in the staging of its biggest event.

“The FEI has been taking an increasing level of ownership and playing an expanding role in supporting and working in partnership with the LOC for the WEG,” he says. “This has taken the form of multiple and regular visits to review each aspect of the project, providing advice and support where required. All areas of the FEI are engaged, including the sport, veterinary, commercial, legal, marketing, communications and IT departments. This is very much in line with the increased role of international federations under Olympic Agenda 2020.”

Hadaway acknowledges that it is essential for rights-holders and organising committees to have a clear understanding of their roles through a binding framework, but he believes a truly successful event requires more than simply legal jargon. If an event is to tick every box – from seamless logistics to great facilities, consistent branding and happy athletes, horses and spectators – then the enthusiastic pursuit of agreed targets by all individuals and groups is essential.

“The number one piece of advice would be to establish an environment of partnership from the beginning of the relationship between the LOC and the federation,” Hadaway says. “A host agreement provides the vital legal framework around which the event is delivered, but ultimately its success will depend on all parties working together towards a set of common and agreed goals, service levels, standards and expectations.”

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