Eventers hoping to gain the advantage of riding round Versailles a year ahead of Paris 2024 are in for a disappointment with confirmation that there will be no full-blown Olympic test event this summer, for at least the first time in 30 years.
The Paris 2024 organising committee has made further changes to normal procedure by appointing an external management company, GL Events, to deliver the whole equestrian infrastructure. These announcements were made only as recently as the FEI General Assembly in November, with the Games just 18 months away.
The Paris 2024 organising committee is widely reported to be cost saving, though there is scepticism that the equestrian park – in the grounds of the famous chateau of Versailles – is not well advanced, and that is why managerial plans have changed.
After the FEI had updated national federations, Soenke Lauterbach, secretary general of the German federation, told leading magazine Reiten St Georg that he was getting “cold feet.” He added: “In the best-case scenario, everything would be ready now, a year and a half beforehand.”
Conventionally, a 2* three-day event has been staged a year ahead of each Olympic Games, the rationale being that infrastructure and logistics for specialist dressage and jumping disciplines are the same as in eventing and so can be stress-tested at the same time.
FEI personnel visited the Versailles site this month, but a comprehensive cross-country course assessment will not take place till September, with just a few horses present in a non-competition scenario. When the arena is completed there will be 20,000 grandstand seats and 10,000 square metres of hospitality space.
Olympic equestrian organising teams are usually recruited from well-known FEI accredited personnel, but they become employees of the host city and answerable directly to the Games organiser. Paris has opted instead to sub-contract the entire responsibility for the horse park to GL Events. This global corporation has supported previous Olympic Games and its French-based equestrian division is well known in Europe, notably for running the Equita Lyon. Paris 2024 is still in charge of recruiting equestrian volunteers.
FEI president Ingmar de Vos has previously reported that work at Versailles is difficult and compromises have had to be made. The horse park is shared with modern pentathlon, which has a riding phase for the last time. This means potential competition days are lost, and all equestrian events finish on the Tuesday of the second week, and with no free day. One major consequence is that the judging of all 65 riders in the eventing dressage is squeezed into a single day.
The schedule is subject to change and is still not set out in detail in the published FEI Rules for Paris 2024. After the opening ceremony on Friday, July 26, eventing will run from July 27-July 29. Team dressage starts on July 30, team jumping on July 31, with competitions for those two disciplines then scrambled until Tuesday, August 6.
There may also be surprise that grooms will sleep in their trucks – at least giving the advantage of being close to their horses, which has not always achievable at previous Games when grooms have commuted to accommodation off-site. Another apparent compromise is that horses will be stabled by discipline rather than by nation.