Greenwich Venue Too Small to Host 2012 Olympic Equestrian Games

Mon, 02/01/2010 - 23:17
British Dressage News

Critics are questioning whether Greenwich Park, the equestrian venue for the London 2012 Olympics, has the capacity to stage the Games.

“There physically isn’t enough room at Greenwich Park for what the public want,” Dressage at Hickstead supremo Dane Rawlins told Horse & Hound.

These latest concerns come just weeks after a number of riders expressed dissent about the appointment of Sue Benson as cross-country course-designer (news, 26 October).

Mr Rawlins, who lobbied for the equestrian events of the Games to be held at Hickstead in West Sussex, stated that he was not alone in his beliefs and that his concerns go beyond his vested interest in that venue.

“Serious people have serious doubts about Greenwich Park. It’s something everyone is talking about,” he said.

Commentator and TV producer Peter Hayward Scowcroft echoed this viewpoint.

“The word ‘logistics’ sums it up,” he said. “Greenwich is a lovely setting and it might look pretty on TV, but what about bums on seats?”

But British Equestrian Federation (BEF) chief executive Andrew Finding strongly dismissed these claims.

“There is a lot of rumour about Greenwich Park that is not well informed,” he said. “The bid was made according to International Olympic Committee [IOC] guidelines and the site complies with these guidelines.”

Greenwich Park is the BEF’s favoured venue, largely due to location. A BEF working party compiled a report in September 2003 after visiting several of the sites under consideration. The document, seen by H&H, highlights the proximity of Greenwich to the main Olympic venue at Stratford and praises the “stunning architectural backdrop” on offer. It concludes that this is crucial in “promoting the horse as a critical and sustainable element of the Olympic Games movement”.

Mr Finding explained that the stadium at Greenwich would be designed to seat 23,000 people, a figure set by the IOC. He added that he thought it likely that this number would increase, although he could not say by how much. At the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, the total stadium capacity was 60,000 and crowds approaching this number watched one event, the kür (freestyle dressage to music final), alone.

A Burghley spokesman revealed that this year’s horse trials drew around 145,000 spectators across the four days, while Badminton attracts up to 185,000 visitors.

The land at Badminton, including areas used only for parking, tradestands and the now obsolete steeplechase course, covers 1,500 acres compared with 183 at Greenwich.

Neither the BEF nor the London Olympic Games Organising Committee (LOCOG) could tell H&H how many of these 183 acres will be used.

Both organisations were also unable to give any indication of how many spectators the cross-country course might be able to hold. At Badminton this year, 120,000 people passed through the gates on cross-country day.

A spokesman for LOCOG said crowd numbers could not beestablished until the cross-country course had been designed. LOCOG would not allow H&H to interview Mrs Benson for this article unless an official was present.

Health and safety guidelines stipulate that the organisers of an event such as the Olympics must allow at least 1 / 2 m sq per person. Using this formula, Greenwich Park’s total capacity is 1,480,000.

But this figure does not take into account land occupied by the cross-country course, the main stadium, warm-up area, stable blocks, lorry parks and the facilities intended for riders, grooms, officials and the media.

Neither does it allow for trees or shrubbery. The BEF said that there was no intention to use nearby Blackheath as an overspill area.

Plans of the site posted on the BEF website — and subsequently removed — appear to be drawn to two different scales. Mr Finding could not explain why the plans had been removed from the site.

Mr Rawlins said that he believed the decision to use Greenwich had been made for the right reasons.

But he added: “It looked like a great idea on paper, but now we have reality to deal with.

“The BEF and LOCOG won’t discuss these issues. Why are they being defensive if they don’t have something to hide?”

Article copyrighted Horse and Hound - Subscribe to Horse & Hound and Save 
Enjoy all the latest equestrian news and competition reports delivered straight to your door every week. Click here to subscribe now and enjoy 18 issues FREE

Related Links 
Talk Yourself Horse: Dane Rawlins
Brits Spend £4 Billion Per Year on Horses