Five new venues have applied to host the delayed 2022 FEI World Endurance Championship, as it emerges that the original Verona site was known to have many problems 16 months before the FEI removed the event at short notice.

When the cancellation was announced on September 8 this year, reference was made to difficulties in completing the final preparation works because of the concurrent staging of a “rice festival” on the same site.

However, has learned that problems went back to at least May 2021, when the obligatory test ride took place, causing both riders and the FEI’s own technical committee to voice concerns and the organizer be replaced. New deadlines to resolve them since then were repeatedly not met during 2021 and 2022.

Italy had originally applied to stage a full complement of World Equestrian Games disciplines in 2022, but it was only successful in four, including endurance, slated to run on October 19. Verona is not Italy’s best-known endurance venue and the original organizers were also relatively untried at elite championship level.

After the May 2021 test ride, the FEI identified “several issues.” As an example, an FEI spokesman said the original loops crossed rice fields. There was a narrow crossing over one of the irrigation channels. One horse, unmounted at the time, slipped off the side, although was unhurt. The FEI requested it be widened and gave 30 days to address this and other concerns, with a view to staging a further test ride in October 2021. However, the second test ride was called off when a strong storm damaged some key areas and left others impassable.

Instead, a detailed site visit was carried out by FEI officials in October 2021, followed by several other site visits and follow-up meetings with a new organiser, the more experienced VeronaFiera, and the Italian federation. During these site visits, solutions for the various issues were identified and the FEI says the organizer committed to implementing them.

The FEI technical delegate (TD) was also changed, because there was by then a regulatory requirement for a Level 4 TD to officiate at world championship events. The original appointee continued to work as assistant TD.

But despite all the personnel changes and interventions, Verona still provided safety concerns with just weeks to go. The FEI issued a termination notice at the end of August and announced cancellation a week later, causing despair among endurance riders for whom the abandonment of the WEG 2018 endurance race remains a raw memory.

Asked why they left it so late, FEI president Ingmar de Vos said, “We waited until now, because we had genuinely hoped that the issues that had been previously raised with the Organising Committee would have been resolved following several site visits and meetings, but unfortunately, this was not the case. To cancel earlier would have been premature, and to cancel any later would have been even more disruptive.”

Five very experienced venues have applied to run a replacement championship, which may take place as late as April 30, 2023. These, too, include a venue involved in prior world championship controversy: Pisa, also in Italy.

Pisa was slated to stage the 2020 championship (which eventually took place in 2021 because of the pandemic), but the FEI stood down the organizer following allegations of “interference” with an officiating vet during a youth event at the same place. The FEI had considered disciplinary proceedings against Pisa proprietor Gianluca Laliscia, but legal proceedings would have been lengthy and the FEI wanted to give riders certainty of a 2020 championship ride after the disaster at WEG 2018. So instead, the FEI persuaded him to stand aside.

Asked if the FEI would feel comfortable to award another world championship to Pisa, the FEI said, “It is the FEI’s understanding that the same organisational structure that was in place for the successful FEI Endurance World Championship 2021 held in Pisa, San Rossore, will be in place if Pisa were to be awarded the 2022 Championships. The officials, wherever it is staged, will be appointed in accordance with the FEI Endurance Rules (Chapter VII and Annex 6).”

Other bids are from Bouthib in the United Arab Emirates; Fontainebleau, France; Lisbon, Portugal; and Samorin, Slovakia.