Saudi Arabia is the first Middle Eastern country to host a premier global equestrian championship, with news that Riyadh will stage the FEI World Cup showjumping and dressage finals in 2024.
It will be organised on the Saudi equestrian federation’s behalf by the UK’s HPower group, in a new indoor exhibition centre in the heart of the capital city.
To stage dressage for the first time at any level represents a significant departure for a country whose major participation and experience in organisation extends to international showjumping and endurance only; Saudi’s bid to stage the full World Equestrian Games (WEG) in 2022 was declined.
FEI’s director of games operations Tim Hadaway visited the facility in October.
An HPower spokesman told H&H: “By anybody’s standards, it is an excellent, state-of-the-art facility. Its main hall is 14,644 square metres, which will house the main arena easily. There are a further three halls for warm-up rings, shopping villages etc.
“It does, of course, have air-conditioning. It’s only 15km from the airport, where the horses would be flown into, and 15 to 20 minutes from existing hotels that have been pinpointed for athletes, officials, grooms and media. A 230-room hotel being built on site will cater for the majority of room requirements.”
Kyra Kyrklund, president of the International Dressage Riders Club, felt riders would embrace the initiative, although was cautious about the achievable audience.
“It is wonderful to have a new country host a major championship, and it will help the development of dressage in the region,” she said. “Of course, in such a hot and humid climate, it will be crucial that both horse and human welfare are at the top of the agenda.
“Both jumping and dressage need more spectators and this is always the challenge when using distant locations for equestrian events. Hopefully, the FEI and the organising committee will be well aware of this.”
The kingdom is currently spending vast sums in developing sport and sports tourism in a drive to encourage cultural change and promote gender equality, although campaigners such as Amnesty International say Saudi is “sports-washing” over its poor record in human rights. This month’s Joshua-Ruiz boxing match, and Formula E motor racing are among sports currently being introduced to Saudi audiences.
Female riders now represent 25% of the Saudi jumping riders registered with the FEI. For the first time, females have been allowed to compete in an unofficial team contest at this month’s CSI at the venue owned by London 2012 team bronze medallist Ramzy Al Duhami.
The United Arab Emirates hoped to be the first Middle Eastern country hosting the jumping World Cup finals, but unsuccessfully applied for both this and the WEG alternative showjumping championship of 2022. They were instead awarded to Leipzig and Herning.
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