Is showjumping’s Olympic legacy fizzling out? *H&H VIP*

  • After Greenwich Park hosted more than 200,000 equestrian fans during London 2012, promoters vied to launch outdoor internationals — feeding the public’s apparent new appetite to watch horse sport in the capital.

    But with news that the Global Champions Tour (GCT) is launching in Mexico and is now undecided whether Syon Park (pictured above), London or Paris will receive its sole remaining date for 2016, is the “soft” Olympic legacy finally fizzling out?

    Even Olympia and Royal Windsor supremo Simon Brooks-Ward would not again attempt an outdoor launch in central London, after his proposal for Horse Guards Parade in 2013 was blocked by Royal Parks.

    “I think the moment has gone, unfortunately,” he told H&H. “I don’t think Horse Guards would have another equestrian event.”

    GCT brought its trademark glitz to London, and notably attracted the BBC.

    But the difficulties for organisers without the financial and political clout of the London Olympic organising committee are underlined by GCT London’s four changes of site in just three years.

    Clapham Common, which hosted showjumping in the 1980s, Greenwich and Syon Park were among many venues assessed for GCT by MJ2 Events LLP in June 2012.

    Stabling is often the problem at “landmark” sites. MJ2 concluded the only central locations capable of profitability were Horse Guards Parade, a site south of Kensington Palace, and playing fields at Hyde Park Barracks.

    Two London five-stars then appeared in the 2013 FEI calendar — a GCT at Kensington Palace Gardens in June, organised by Peter Phillips’ company SEL (UK), and Mr Brooks-Ward’s Horse Guards proposal in July.

    The British Equestrian Federation hoped both could proceed but Royal Parks, which controls many of London’s iconic sites, chose the GCT, despite anticipated issues with planning permission.

    When planning was refused in March 2013, Mr Phillips found a replacement, on parking space at Stratford, with the Olympic stadium a distant view.

    Mr Phillips also landed live coverage on the BBC. The inaugural London GCT was a success, with Ben Maher and Cella trumping fellow London gold medallists Nick Skelton and Big Star in a sizzling jump-off, but it drew only a few thousand spectators.

    In 2014, the GCT moved to Horse Guards, again with low spectator numbers. By 2015, the GCT and Mr Phillips had parted company, for reasons both declined to divulge. The GCT also lost BBC coverage and moved to Syon Park, 10 miles from Westminster.

    This week, Syon Park told H&H it was keen to host GCT again, despite the 2015 show being stricken by wet weather and spectator complaints about expensive tickets — there is free public admission at many GCT shows in Europe. However, footfall is not a key component of the usual GCT business model, which involves five-figure rider pay-cards and hospitality packages on a scale the GCT may have struggled to sell in Britain.

    Trans-Atlantic expansion

    The GCT’s preference for Mexico City over London is also linked to the Tour’s long-planned trans-Atlantic expansion. This builds on the Americas’ investment in showjumping in the run-up to Rio, and investment in the Tour itself by US property tycoon Frank McCourt. Mexico sends a full team to Rio, and the country qualified for the 2015 Nations Cup final.

    A Royal Parks spokesman told H&H the GCT arrangement with Horse Guards was only ever for one year, and added: “We are currently at capacity for leading events in all parks for 2016, but we are always open to receiving applications in line with our major events strategy.”

    Is a return to Greenwich feasible? An independent organiser seems unlikely to afford a platform or other essential ground-levelling measures, as were used in 2012.

    Any proposal could also prod the revival of local protest group NOGOE (No to Greenwich for Olympic Equestrian Events).

    Former campaigner John Bell said: “We know from experience how much damage even the ‘small scale’ test events caused. There has been a lot of building in the area since 2012 and the Park is now needed as a recreation site for Londoners and tourists.”

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 21 January 2016