Today’s devastating announcement about cancellation of the FEI World Cup™ Finals turned out to be only the tip of the Covid-19 pandemic iceberg, as everyone from competitors and trainers to coaches and officials reeled from news that the Las Vegas competition would not be held.
U.S. dressage technical advisor Debbie McDonald told me, “This is the beginning of a very disruptive year. I don’t think this is the last of it. Nobody knows how long it’s going to last. At this point, we’re just looking at it day by day.”
Then, just a few minutes later, the U.S. Equestrian Federation put out a notice saying that effective Monday March 16, all USEF owned events, selection trials, training camps, clinics, and activities will be suspended for the next 30 days.
But even more jaw-dropping, USEF went on to “strongly” recommend that competition organizers suspend all USEF-licensed competitions across the country for the next 30 days and that equestrians do not compete for 30 days as well. Those who do compete will not receive credit for the points or qualifications they would have earned. Meanwhile, the European Equestrian Federation and International Jumper Riders Club asked for a suspension of shows not only in Europe, but also elsewhere in the world.
Later in the day, the last two weeks of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, were cancelled.
How things will proceed — whether it’s coaching of top level athletes or the way riders can qualify for the North American Youth Championships and the show jumping Talent Search, remains to be seen. USEF Director of Sport Will Connell said, “Now we have to adjust and move in a new direction. We will start by identifying all the challenges and all the opportunities and will start to address them.”
In part, that will involve working with the FEI to deal with such matters as certificates of capability for the Olympics and Paralympics.
“I know people want answers. People are everything from upset through to annoyed, confused and disoriented. We will take this in a logical step-by-step process,” Will maintained.
At this point, the 5-star Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, which starts on April 22, is still planning to go ahead as scheduled, though that of course will depend on forces outside anyone’s control.
“We have 41 days remaining before the event, and a lot can change,” said Lee Carter, executive director of Equestrian Events Inc., which presents the competition. Unlike the World Cup, which has more foreign competitors than those from the U.S., the 5-star is primarily composed of riders from this hemisphere.
Las Vegas Events, which was putting on the World Cup, stated all ticket holders and vendors will get refunds.
“I feel really, really sorry for Vegas,” said Will, noting the Las Vegas Events team “was really focused on making it a great event. It is very sad that we’ve lost it, but it was cancelled for very good reasons.”
Dressage rider Lindsay Kellock, who had hoped to compete in Vegas said, “We’re all in disbelief a little bit that this is happening. It’s surreal.
“It definitely was a shock,” continued Lindsay, echoing the reaction of other riders focused on taking part in Vegas.
At the same time, she added, “We’re concerned for everybody’s health and that everyone stays safe. They’re obviously doing this to protect all of us, so I completely understand this decision.”
Explaining why the Cups could not proceed, Pat Christenson, Las Vegas Events’ president, noted, “The whole idea of gathering in this country right now, every sporting event is taking a look at that.”
Specifically in regard to the Cup, he stated, “I think the European [travel[ ban was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Once you look at all the complications with the riders getting over here and complications with the horses, I don’t think we would have overcome any of that.”
Next month’s Cup would have marked the 20th anniversary of the first such competition in the city, and it would have been the seventh edition of the indoor championships at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“We’ve been fortunate for some time doing this, we’ve been successful almost every year,” he said, explaining that the idea of hosting the Cup is to fulfill Las Vegas Events’ mission and “bring visitors to town.”
He declined to say how much of a financial loss the cancellation mean, but it is obviously considerable. At the same time, it is also a loss for the sport. However, he added, “I don’t see why something like this that has affected the whole world would prevent us from considering it again.” The next opportunity likely would be in 2025, he said, if the FEI awards it to Las Vegas Events.
It was disappointing that the event hadn’t had a chance to show off how it was going to live up to its new slogan, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Pat noted, “We had a rock orchestra that was opening and closing it, we had Cirque [de Soleil] involved, so we were looking forward to taking this to a different level. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the opportunity to do that.” The next Cup scheduled for the U.S. is Omaha in 2023, six years after its highly praised presentation in 2017.
The big question now is what will happen with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, called cancellation “unthinkable,” though she conceded the pandemic will have some effect on the running of the Games.
Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori confirmed that the Games are currently going ahead as planned, even though Executive Board member Haruyuki Takahashi suggested they could be delayed.