Equestrian Sport Productions, organizers of the Wellington Equestrian Festival, withdrew their bid this week to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
Wellington was one of five communities under consideration to host the games, regarded as the world championships of the equestrian industry.
Promoters cited recent decisions by the Wellington Village Council that they say could endanger local equestrian venues as evidence of a lack of support from the village.
But several council members expressed puzzlement over the withdrawal, noting that they had yet to see information on the bid in order to give support or withhold it.
“It wasn’t so much a lack of support for the games,” Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone told the Town-Crier Tuesday. “It was that they are attacking the venues.”
Stone cited recent decisions by a majority of council members to revoke the master plan and compatibility determination of the Equestrian Village property, as well as an unusual hearing scheduled next Tuesday to examine and possibly reconsider a decision last October by the former council to approve a master plan that governs the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
“It makes it impossible to have a successful bid,” Stone said. “The mere fact that they are challenging the venues puts the bid in jeopardy.”
Stone said that the Fédération Équestre Internationale (more commonly known as FEI, or, in English, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports), which is the international body that governs the games, looks for support from the host government. “One Google search shows the reality of the situation in Wellington,” Stone said. “We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves, the United States Equestrian Federation or the FEI.”
But withdrawing the bid means Wellington could have a chance at the 2022 games, he said.
Mayor Bob Margolis said that the decisions cited by Stone didn’t necessarily mean that the council would be against supporting Wellington’s bid to host the competition.
“I don’t think one has anything to do with the other,” he told the Town-Crier Wednesday. “The actions taken and the hearing have nothing to do with the venues. It’s about the process.”
Margolis noted that Wellington’s government could change several times before the 2018 games. “How will it turn out? I don’t know,” he said. “Basing their decision on what happened yesterday and next week is shortsighted.”
Council members were expecting to hear a presentation on the games at Monday’s agenda review meeting, Margolis said.
“When [Village Manager Paul Schofield] and I met with Mr. Stone, we asked him to come in and make a presentation,” he said. “I told him what we needed was more information.”
Councilman John Greene echoed Margolis’ comments.
“I was disappointed to learn that they withdrew the application before we got a chance to see it,” he said.
Greene said he learned about the event when it was reported in the media.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “We were expecting that presentation. If they want us to lobby to make Wellington the host city, we were supportive of that. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any information. I was never provided one document. I was never asked for my opinion.”
But Stone said that the first he heard of a planned presentation was when it was reported in the Town-Crier.
“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known,” he said. “I was supposed to be in Switzerland on the 11th making a presentation to the FEI.”
Margolis said he favored bringing the World Equestrian Games to Wellington if the logistics could be worked out but that he had never received information on which to base any decision.
Stone said he had notified the village when he learned that Wellington was a contender but that it took a week to meet with the mayor and staff. “I never heard another word from them,” he said.
Margolis said that he thought the council was being used as a scapegoat.
“My understanding from talking to people in the equestrian community is that having the games in Florida during hurricane season and in the heat and humidity is not the best of actions,” he said.
Margolis added that he felt that the council was being used as an excuse, noting that a statement from Equestrian Sport Productions CEO Mark Bellissimo had singled out Margolis and Greene, as well as Councilman Matt Willhite, directly for the decision.
Greene agreed. “It’s a political agenda,” he said. “They are trying to throw us under the bus.”
Both pointed out that Vice Mayor Howard Coates, who was not named, had been more hesitant to show support than either of them at the June 22 council meeting.
But Stone said that despite repeated statements from the council members that they support the equestrian industry, they have not shown it.
“When they said they supported dressage, we believed them,” he said. “But no matter what they say about being supportive, their actions say different.”
Margolis disagreed. “It’s disingenuous to blame the actions of the council for this,” he said. “If the World Equestrian Games do not come to Wellington, they are 100 percent to blame for it.”
Above: The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.