The 2018 World Equestrian Games will be in Canada after all, apparently thanks to a dispute over sponsorship.
The Fédération Equestre Internationale announced Monday that Bromont, Quebec, was selected unanimously over a repeat engagement at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
In 2010, the World Equestrian Games came to Kentucky, the first time they were held outside of Europe.
Kentucky submitted a proposal when bidding for the 2018 Games was reopened last summer after Bromont's bid ran into financial difficulties.
According to a state study, the 2010 Games generated more than $200 million in economic impact for Kentucky, and Gov. Steve Beshear's office had hoped to bring them back to the state.
But the FEI said the Bromont site, just outside Montreal, had worked out the problems and would host the Games, akin to an all-equine version of the Olympics, with seven disciplines: dressage and para-dressage, eventing, jumping, reining, vaulting, driving and endurance.
The FEI said that both bids "were impressive" but that Bromont/Montreal was the stronger of the two, according to a statement from the governing body of horse sports.
Longines vs. Rolex
Kentucky's bid apparently was hampered by dueling sponsorships from Swiss luxury watchmakers.
"We are obviously disappointed Kentucky's bid to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games was not accepted by the FEI," Jamie Link, deputy chief of staff for Beshear, and Alston Kerr, chairwoman of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, said in a joint statement. "Every effort was made to bring the 2018 Games to Kentucky but, in the end, we were not able to overcome a commercial conflict between Longines Watch Co., a significant sponsor of the FEI, and Rolex, a longtime and current sponsor of the Kentucky Horse Park."
In 2013, Longines signed a 10-year sponsorship of the FEI with a value of at least $130 million and possibly much more. The company, owned by Swatch, also promised to develop cutting-edge timekeeping and data-handling services specifically for equestrian sport and multimedia use, such as on giant screens, scoreboards and for broadcasters as part of the presentation of FEI events around the world.
Rolex, which also had been a significant sponsor of FEI's jumping and dressage competitions, apparently was pushed out. The Kentucky Horse Park's outdoor arena is called the Rolex Stadium, and the park hosts the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, an Olympic-level equestrian competition.
"We are very proud of our bid and feel that, with our storied equine tradition and unmatched facilities at the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington and Kentucky would have been the perfect hosts for the 2018 Games," Link and Kerr said. "We wish Bromont/Montreal, Canada, the best as the 2018 organizer and hope their Games are as successful as ours were in 2010."
Former Olympic venue
The Bromont Olympic Equestrian Park, the venue for the 1976 Montreal Olympics' equestrian events, will be the hub for the Games, according to a news release issued from Switzerland, where the FEI is beginning a two-day meeting.
"We are really delighted to award the 2018 Games to Bromont/Montreal," the FEI's president, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan, said in a statement. "The Bromont Olympic Equestrian Park is an exceptional and proven venue, and will be the ideal location for the eighth edition of the FEI World Equestrian Games, our most global equestrian event."
In 75 days, the 2014 Games will open in Normandy, France, she said, and more than 500,000 spectators and millions of TV viewers are expected to watch them.
"Four years from now, the Games will be heading to Canada, where we expect even larger audiences on the ground and on television as equestrian sport continues its global growth," said Princess Haya, who is the junior wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and owner of the Darley Thoroughbred breeding and racing operation.
Alltech chief disappointed
Last summer, the FEI reopened bidding for the 2018 Games when the Canadian bid team for Bromont/Montreal was unable to provide the full public-sector financial support that was required before an allocation could be made.
Confirmation that the Canadian bid committee had subsequently secured substantial government backing was a crucial element in Monday's decision, the FEI said.
The inaugural FEI World Equestrian Games were in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1990. Since then, the Games have been staged in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1994; Rome in 1998; Jerez, Spain, in 2002; Aachen, Germany, in 2006; and Lexington in 2010.
The seventh edition of the event, the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, will be in Normandy from Aug. 23 to Sept. 7.
Nicholasville-based animal nutrition giant Alltech sponsored the 2010 and 2014 Games.
Alltech founder Pearse Lyons said Monday that he was surprised by the FEI's decision.
"Obviously, disappointed for Kentucky," Lyons said. "Because of the economic impact it had on Kentucky. ... We're also disappointed for the Kentucky Horse Park, which has become in many respects the equi-epicenter for the country."
Lyons said his company had been ready to sign on to sponsor again if the Games came back to Lexington.
"If it was Kentucky, we had the team ready. We're a Kentucky company. We spent $32 million on Kentucky, $34.5 million on Normandy, and we were ready to sign on," Lyons said. "We'll stop, rethink and decide (on future sponsorships). Remember, it's coming to North America for only the second time. Hopefully, what we'll see is every four years it will alternate."
Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.