Last week I received a couple of press releases from the FEI that, even by their standards, were a bit on the strange side. The oddest was probably the one with the headline that announced that a new ‘FEI TV on the Go’ app had been launched ‘ to mark St. Nicholas Day’. Say what? Since when does Mission Control use Christian holidays as an excuse to launch products? Sure, I ‘get’ the Santa reference to ‘giving’ the world this fabulous new app, but the link between the app and a Christmas present seemed just a tad contrived to me, as though someone couldn’t think of anything better for a headline. Oh well, I guess the between-the-lines message is that there ain’t no war on Christmas at FEI HQ.
The other bizarre announcement was that the city of Omaha, Nebraska is bidding against London to host the 2017 World Cup Show Jumping and Dressage Finals. Omaha? For reals? The last big thing to happen in the 42nd largest city in the US was – let me see – nothing. I checked the FEI calendar for the US for this year, and was not the least bit surprised to find that there were no FEI sanctioned events in Nebraska. If you aren’t sure where Nebraska is on the map, you will find it in the dead centre of the USA. And I do mean dead. I know only two things connected to Omaha: first, that on the single TV channel I had access to as a child I developed a taste for nature shows thanks to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Of course I didn’t know that the ‘Omaha’ in the name referred to an actual place, but at least I knew something called ‘Omaha’ existed. The other Omaha connection I’m aware of is, of course, that city’s richest son, Warren Buffett – whose nickname in financial circles is the ‘Oracle of Omaha’.
I don’t remember ever hearing anything about horses in connection with Omaha (never mind anything FEI-related), even though I’m sure they must have horses there somewhere. I would even be willing to bet that last week’s release is the first time in history Omaha has appeared in an FEI announcement. So yes, Omaha’s bid for a joint WC Final strikes me as just a bit nutty. When the WC Final was held in Vegas in the past, the Europeans whined about having to fly their horses all the way to LA to be trucked the few hours to Vegas. Imagine the squawking if they had to find their way to one of the remotest spots on the American map. Nebraska is bordered by six states, none of which could lay claim to being America’s equestrian sporting heartland. Clockwise from top: South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. Unless there were a specially chartered flight to land at an airport with a long enough runway, it would be quite a commute for the foreign horses to get to Nebraska. Hell, it would be a long haul for everyone – even for North Americans. I just went on Orbitz and did a flight search from Vancouver to Omaha using some random mid-week dates in January. Even though it’s physically closer than Toronto, it would take me more than 11 hours (which is longer than to Frankfurt) to get there. I would have to fly through Portland and then Denver, and on the way home I could do it with only one plane change, but it would mean flying for two hours in the wrong direction to Houston and also take more than 11 hours. I don’t think I’m out of line to suggest that a WC in Nebraska would be a hard sell to spectators
I’m not blaming the FEI for including Omaha’s bid in their press release. Clearly the city did send in a bid and is therefore entitled to be listed as such in the announcement. And since the FEI initially awarded the 2015 WC Finals to Guadalajara, when that city had NO VENUE and had never hosted an indoor FEI event (hence the WC was taken away from them and given to the very forgiving people in Vegas who were initially jilted by the FEI in favour of the Mexican bid), we can’t put it entirely past Mission Control that they would seriously consider sending the WC to Nebraska.
I remember attending the FEI five star indoor show in Lyon in November 2008. I spoke to that event’s organizer, a dynamic woman who had laid out a clear path to obtaining the WC Final (which they have been deservingly awarded for 2014). First, they started running FEI sanctioned shows in dressage and show jumping. Then, they applied for and obtained status as a WC qualifier. Finally, when they had proved themselves over several successful years, they bid for the WC Final, which they got. Makes sense, hey? If Omaha gets the 2017 WC, I’d be just a bit peeved if I were Lyon. But then let’s not forget that we are talking about the FEI, an organization so enlightened about American geography that it thinks Kentucky is a city.
I imagine Omaha looked at Vegas and said ‘if Vegas can do it so can we.’ Not really. Vegas is Disneyland for grown ups. Omaha is best known for being the place millions of cows used to go to die. I can’t imagine Omaha winning out over London – unless of course London’s bid is half-assed like the UK’s WEG bid that lasted only long enough for the FEI to plump up their list of bidders in a single press release before the bid – which had not even got as far as naming an actual host city – was yanked just three weeks later.
Nothing personal, Omaha, but I don’t think the WC Finals are the best fit for you. You might want to try bidding for another FEI gig, though. The competition isn’t too steep for this one. There is one city that has no public funding (Bromont), one city that has hurricanes from July to November (Welly World), and one that I’ve heard didn’t really want to bid to do it all a second time (Lexington). Omaha, I think you might actually have a shot if you throw your hat in the ring for WEG 2018.