Following months of speculation, the International Olympic Committee has confirmed that the equestrian events of the 2008 Olympic games will be held in Hong Kong, rather than on the Chinese mainland in Beijing.
The change of venue is due to concerns that a disease-free zone, which would allow the horses to return home after the games, could not be delivered in China. Hong Kong’s quarantine procedures will allow the equine athletes to compete without concerns for their health.
FEI President HRH the Infanta Doña Pilar said: “The Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad [BOCOG] has assured us that it will provide the best conditions for the riders and horses in Hong Kong. This has always been our main objective. We are confident that BOCOG and Hong Kong will ensure the stage is set for excellent equestrian competition in Hong Kong, during the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
When the FEI was originally informed of the BOCOG’s wish to move the equestrian competitions away from the heart of the Olympic Games, there was outrage amongst competitors and officials. Initally the FEI tried to reverse the decision, but ultimately decided that the health of the horses must remained paramount.
Will Connell, BEF performance director and Team GB equestrian team leader, said: “Having visited the proposed sites at Sha Tin and Beas River, I am confident that BOCOG alongside officials in Hong Kong will provide an outstanding venue for the equestrian part of the Games”.
The BSJA, British Dressage and British Eventing are all pleased that the horses’ interests are being taken seriously, but express disappointment that the equestrian events will not take place at the Olympic village.
“It’s usually like one big family at the Olympics,” said Jackie Knightley of the BSJA, “but equestrian events have been separated before, plus Hong Kong already has good racing facilities, so I am sure the competition will be well run.”
President of the Hong Kong organising committee Timothy Fok said: “Hong Kong is delighted to have this opportunity to contribute further to the Olympic movement. Supporters of equestrian sport can rest assured that we will do everything we can to host them in the best possible way.”
The FEI says it has full confidence in Hong Kong’s ability to stage international horse sport. A study of the climate will be conducted this summer to determine the competition schedules as the normal weather patterns suggest an extremely hot and humid environment for horses, as well as excessive rains and typhoons which could interfere with the timetabling of events.
Will Connell explained: “In relation to climate issues surrounding the choice of Hong Kong, BOCOG and the FEI are working with experts in the scientific community, including Britain’s Dr David Marlin, to ensure the most effective measures are in place to minimise the effect of the heat and humidity typical of August / September in Hong Kong.”
Despite the disappointment about being dislocated from the heart of the Games, organisers, officials and competitors are pleased that a decision has at last been reached. FEI President HRH Infanta Dona Pilar said: “We now have a big challenge ahead of us: to be at the heart of the 2008 Olympic Games despite the distance from the host city.”