The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) is in talks with the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and the International Olympic Committee (ICO) over the possibility of moving the equestrian competition venue to Hong Kong, which is about 1,231 miles south of the Chinese capital.
It originally appeared that equestrian competitions would take place at the Country Equestrian Park in northern Beijing, which is situated just 21 miles away from the Olympic village. But the Hong Kong government has been lobbying to host some of the Games and moving the equestrian events there appears to be the most logical choice, because the city has a strong racing tradition and excellent equestrian facilities, which Beijing doesn’t have.
Hong Kong Olympic Committee president Timothy Fok is confident their bid will be successful and he may be right — not least because it would help solve a thorny problem of quarantine regulation. China hasn’t yet received international approval for equine health, so both the FEI and the ICO have asked Chinese organisers to strengthen quarantine measures and prevent disease spreading to Olympic horses. Some horses could also have to face quarantine when returning home from China.
Moving the equestrian competitions to Hong Kong could also help reduce Beijing’s multimillion Olympic bill, which fits neatly in with BOCOG’s attempt to shave six billion yuan (£390m) off the cost of building 2008 Games venues.
“[The move] could have to do with quarantine or with the availability of a suitable place in Hong Kong,” says Performance Director for the British Equestrian Federation, Will Connell, who stresses that, as a national body, the BEF are “not involved at all” in the choice of venue.
The discussion, however, is still in early stages. Earlier this month, Beijing vice-mayor Zhang Mao confirmed to the Taipei Journalist Association that suggestions had been put forward to hold the equestrian events in Hong Kong, but said that the final decision rests in the hands of the International Olympic Committee.
The FEI will also have their say, and their executive board is going to Beijing in January to visit BOCOG and presumably assess their choice of venues. “We did not get any indication from the [Beijing] organising committee about their intentions so far and we don’t know whether we’ll get an indication before January,’ says FEI spokeswoman Muriel Faenza.
Faenza also confirmed that — while the equestrian venue remains under discussion — the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is looking into the temporary import of horses in China for the Olympics, which could help address the issue with quarantine.
Meanwhile, BEF have expressed a small preference for the equestrian events to take place in Beijing if possible. “First of all, we’d like to be at a venue that provides us with a competition of Olympic standards and that we can get to. If it turns out that the quarantine regulation is restrictive [in Beijing], then we had better go to Hong Kong,” says Connell. “But all things equal, it would be best to be in Beijing because Hong Kong is 1,500 miles away. We’d prefer to be in Beijing to be part of the Olympic movement.”