Wellington, Fla. – March 13, 2020 – The sports industry around the world has been rocked by the uncertainty of the rapid spread of the coronavirus with significant cancellations and postponements rolling in across sporting leagues. From the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League ending their seasons early to equestrian competitions limiting the amount of spectators, sporting event organizers are implementing drastic measures in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus among competitors, coaches, competition staff and spectators.
Most recently, on March 13, event organizers announced the cancellation of the 2020 Longines FEI Jumping and Dressage World Cup™ Finals, which were set to take place April 15-19 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The disappointment can be felt for the riders, owners, trainers and fans who had their eyes set on one of the highlight international championships this year. Eighteen horse-and-rider combinations, including World No. 1 Isabell Werth and Charlotte Dujardin, will go back to the drawing board and focus on training in anticipation of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which is also clouded with uncertainty.
In a statement issued on March 13, event organizers of the Finals stated, “The decision was made in the interest of public health as the safety of attendees, competitors, exhibitors and staff is the top priority. While recognizing the disappointment caused by the cancellation, this is the most prudent course of action at this time.
The FEI President, Ingmar De Vos added, “It is very regrettable that next month’s FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas have had to be cancelled, but the decision was out of our hands. Since the FEI World Cup series began in 1978 for Jumping and in 1985 for Dressage, the Finals have never had to be cancelled before, but the global concerns about the spread of the virus and the travel restrictions imposed by the US Government have meant that the Finals are one of many major sporting events impacted by this outbreak.
The FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final was first held in 1986 and a total of 34 Finals have been held through 2019. The United States has won the championship twice – in 2003 with Debbie McDonald on Brentina and in 2009 with Steffen Peters on Ravel. Peters, a top U.S. contender who was looking forward to returning to the Final in Las Vegas, hit his stride this year, racking up multiple wins during the Adequan Global Dressage Festival to earn himself a ticket to Vegas on Suppenkasper. The Final has been held in the U.S. six times previously – in Los Angeles (1995), Las Vegas (2005, 2007, 2009, 2015) and Omaha (2017).
Earlier this week, the FEI announced Verdades, one of the most popular and beloved horses in dressage history, was scheduled to make public appearances at the 2020 FEI World Cup Finals. ‘Diddy’ would headline the Devoucoux Dressage Showcase on Friday afternoon, April 17 before his official retirement ceremony on Saturday evening, but those events will no longer take place.
Other dressage events, including the CDI’s in Madrid, Mannheim, Ornago, Ypaja, Leudelange, Werribee and ’s-Hertogenbosch are also cancelled, though some organizing committees expressed interest to reschedule later in the year. In Wellington, the Adequan Global Dressage Festival is moving forward with their remaining three weeks though the events are closed to the public.
In response to the spread of the virus, President Trump issued a wide sweeping travel ban March 11 that applies to non-U.S. citizens who have traveled in the 26 ‘Schengen Area’ European countries within the past two weeks. These countries include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. European countries excluded from the recent travel ban include Britain, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Turkey and Ukraine.
The travel restrictions are sure to have an effect, not only on international entries in the equestrian festivals currently taking place, but also on the logistics of hosting FEI-sanctioned events with international judging officials.