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Reports from the Olympic City - Last Word
Some final remarks about the Dream Games
Well, it almost feels as though it never happened. The reality of work in the National Office has returned – not that this is so bad: I missed the daily interaction with our staff who “held the fort” so well. But Athens now really seems like a dream.
The Greeks did a great job and deserve the highest accolades. Not everything worked the way it should have, but there were no major dramas that can be put back to them, the venues were excellent, transport was modern, clean and on time, the people were friendly and helpful and the sporting events exciting. The weather was fine and the air reasonably clean on most days.
Outside from the sporting venues, though, there could have been a little more “Olympic atmosphere”. To me it seemed to be just normal tourist season. Traffic was reasonably light, finding a parking station or even spots on the street was relatively easy, the rows of merchandise stalls in the city park appeared to have little business, and the price for a bottle of water was “normal”.
The Australian Team
The Australian Olympic Team had its best-ever Games. Unfortunately, the overall medal count did not include any for Eventing. It was an uphill battle from the first of the three tests: Dressage. Andrew Hoy’s fall at a jump that had already claimed other victims, did not help, but the withdrawal of Top of the Line wiped off any medal chances. Bad luck in the Jumping test helped the Kiwis to move in front of us.
I am sure all of our riders in the three Disciplines did their best on the day. Many factors influence performance and they do not always come together when required. Congratulations and many thanks also to Gareth McKeen and the support team that made things happen. All kinds of changes and emergencies occurred almost on a daily basis and were dealt with swiftly and effectively by Gareth and those around him. Well done!
Where do we go from here?
The debate over “what if …” and “why didn’t ...” is going to rage for a while in Eventing circles, and also for “proper” Dressage and Jumping. Yes, we need to draw conclusions from what has happened but the focus must be on the future.
There are many other questions one could ask, especially regarding our systems of traininig in Dressage and Jumping and the "development" of young horses and of young riders.
Panels and Committees
Since the answers to these questions or at least the subsequent decisions involve our National Discipline Committees, we also need to ask questions about them:
The Federation did not really take advantage of its medal success at previous Games. I had a draft publicity and marketing plan for after the Athens Games but now need to re-work it a bit. Our Eventing squads are still strong, still capable of winning medals at Games. It’s just that we can’t “sell” a medal (or two) after the Athens Games.
We need to promote our sport. Events are the public face of the sport, and the better we get at staging these, providing entertainment that attracts spectators, the media and sponsors, the better will be the result for the sport. This is really an area on with Branches and Clubs must concentrate. With their committees, they are the engines that make events run. They have the knowledge, enthusiasm and the volunteer teams that are essential for any show.
More and better Equestrian events, especially for Jumping
We already have a number of well-run shows in Dressage and Eventing that have developed their own profile. We need more of these, with entertainment that certainly goes beyond the respective Discipline or hopefully beyond Equestrian. “Presentation” must be spot-on, breaks must short or filled with other “entertainment”, sponsors and VIPs must feel spoiled and the general public should go home feeling they got value for their money.
There are also a couple of good stand-alone Jumping shows but in this discipline we are relying far too much on agricultural shows to provide competition, without being able to influence the standard of the show. At least, our World Cup Committee is now working on improving the Australian circuit. Overseas, Jumping attracts huge crowds. There is really no reason why the same could not happen here. Or is there?
Why can’t we get similar shows here? I remember going to Wentworth Park year after year during the money days of Australian jumping. Can we not recreate this? Then there was the Hermès show in Centennial Park. When the company’s MD was replaced, the show was discontinued. There were also a couple of other attempts, some successful, including the shows held at the State Sports Centre at Homebush in front of 6,000 spectators.
People tell me that there are people out there willing to put big money into these sorts of event but lack the confidence in show organisers.
What can we do?
Ask commercial event organisers? Ask organising committees from other Disciplines to assist the Jumpers? Big shows may take a few years to develop but why not add more Jumping competitions to established Dressage shows, as happens already to an extent with the Sydney CDI*** and Dressage and Jumping with the Stars in Melbourne? Why not add Combined Driving to Three-Day Events, as was done with some success at last year’s Sydney CCI***? Many of the major shows in Europe have Dressage and Jumping combined.
Most importantly, we need to make sure that Equestrian events are entertaining. As mentioned earlier, the competition schedule must be well-planned. Organisers must make every effort to stick to their timetable and have other entertainment options when things go wrong. Trade villages are great to have, as are other displays in or outside the competition arenas. There is always interest in hearing from the top riders, listening to vets or going on a tour of the stables. Bored people leave or do not come back. Sponsors and VIPs who do not get the attention they expect, will withdraw their support.
To put a good show together places tremendous strain on organisers. Presently, most of these are volunteers but we need people now who can dedicate more than just their “spare time” to the job and get some financial compensation for it. Successful shows pay for themselves and can afford “professional” management. Maybe those who think they cannot afford paid help find that this paid help will also generate the required income.
These are, I believe some of the important issues that need addressing. Let's work on finding the right answers.