Top events prepare to go on despite coronavirus challenge *H&H Plus*

  • There will be less prize-money on offer at the first two five-star events of the year, and a shorter run-up to them, but organisers say they are on track to deliver. H&H finds out more about how organisers are doing, a year into the pandemic

    PREPARATIONS for Badminton continue apace as top events grapple with uncertainties and financial hits owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Badminton made the call in October that the 2021 event (5–9 May) would run behind closed doors.

    The Gloucestershire CCI5* is the first European top-level international horse trials of the year and organisers are working to ensure both the 2021 fixture and future events are viable, given the unique circumstances.

    “The lead-up is not as long so our onsite preparations are starting a little later than usual, but everything is in hand,” a Badminton spokesman told H&H on Sunday (14 February).

    “We seem to have escaped the worst of the snow as yet and Eric Winter, our course-designer, has visited us recently to check on the cross-country track.”

    Covid has hit the event’s finances, which has resulted in redundancies. The prize money total has also been cut by close to 59%. The FEI has rules on minimum prize totals for CCI5*s (€125,000/£109,079), which it has temporarily waived owing to the pandemic, and although Badminton’s total has been hugely cut, it would still meet the minimum requirement in a normal year.

    The 2021 Badminton winner will receive £32,000, compared to £100,000 in 2019, and while the total prize fund is connected to the number of starters, the 2021 pot (based on between 77 and 80 starters) is £115,055 as opposed to £360,750. This marks a reduction of £245,695.

    “The scenario of this year’s event still has significant costs, but with greatly reduced revenue streams,” added the spokesman. “Regrettably, like many other events, every aspect of Badminton 2021 is taking a cut in order to make it happen and ensure the event is sustainable going forward – this has involved very difficult decisions including office redundancies and reducing the prize money for 2021.”

    British Eventing’s (BE) latest plans are for the 2021 season to start no sooner than 26 March, while the nation awaits Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 22 February announcement for more information on the resumption of outdoor sport as part of the roadmap out of lockdown.

    A BE spokesman said on 10 February that the organisation is “exploring all opportunities to ensure elite combinations are fit and ready to run” at Badminton, within government requirements.

    Kentucky (22–25 April) reinstated its CCI5* class after a grassroots fundraising effort, by the eventing community, raised more than $550,000 (£395,491) in under a week.

    Kentucky’s five-star class was cancelled on 2 February, while fans and riders questioned why a CCI4*-S and other classes could potentially still be held, but not the CCI5*. Organisers said this is because running a five-star is more expensive than other classes.

    “The uncertainties surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic placed us in the financially impossible position of having to run the five-star event without spectators, a situation that left us no choice but to cancel the five-star for 2021, in order to preserve it for many years to come,” said Mike Cooper, president of Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI), which produces the fixture.

    “We are humbled and honoured by the response of the eventing community as they’ve stepped up in a mind-blowing way enabling us to go forward.”

    EEI executive director Lee Carter confirmed to H&H on 14 February that prize money total is likely to be around $155,000 (£111,437) in 2021, compared to $400,000 (£287,580) in non-pandemic years.

    The fixture had just been reinstated on the official FEI calendar as H&H went to press.

     Calendar loss

    THE Event Rider Masters (ERM) series will not run in 2021 and a question mark remains over when it may return, with the only timescale given being “as soon as conditions are right”.

    The CCI4*-S series, founded in 2016, features top-ranked international riders and big prize money, and is hosted at major fixtures across Europe.

    The 2020 season was cancelled owing to Covid-19, and while a spokesman said at the time that ERM’s commercial partners and backers were “committed to making the series run in 2021”, the reality of the ongoing pandemic means this season has also been lost.

    “The combination of uncertainty around the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on live events –  and the challenge for sponsors to find value in eventing at the level set by the FEI for ERM –  means that there is no prospect of delivering a series this year to the high standards we have set within any reasonable financial parameters,” said an ERM spokesman.

    He added that the team has delivered the “best version of eventing broadcast the sport has seen” and is “very proud” of what it created for riders, owners, fans and venues.

    “However, ERM has only survived thanks to the support of our backers, and without evidence that the sport is going to be able to come together to support a stand-alone commercial proposition, that backing has been withdrawn,” said the spokesman.

    “We continue to work to find ways to promote the development of eventing, especially in the area of high-quality broadcast production and distribution, and we will be ready to restart a series as soon as the conditions are right.”

    ERM declined to comment further when asked by H&H if this is likely to be 2022.

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