World Games jeopardised by funding crisis

 

THE future of the World. Equestrian Games, due to be staged in Ireland in 1998 hangs in the balance today following a decision at Cabinet level that no further Government funding will be given to the £10.9 million project.

WEG Ireland Ltd has already drawn down £500,000 from Bord Failte in subventions for its 1994 and 1995 running costs, but the company has been informed that no further funding will be made available.

Senior officials in the Department of Trade and Tourism are to meet with representatives of WEG Ireland this afternoon, when a "slightly revised proposal" will be put forward on the six discipline Games which are due to be staged at the RDS and Punchestown in August 1998.

A source close to WEG Ireland said yesterday that the 1998 Games were in jeopardy and would not go ahead if further Government funding could not be guaranteed. The source stressed that the major element in Ireland's successful bid to host the event had been the pledge of £1.5 million in Government support when the decision to apply for the Games was first made in 1993.

Fianna Fail TD Charlie McCreevy, Minister for Trade and Tourism when the official bid was made in 1994, had travelled to the International Equestrian Federation (FEI )general assembly in Florida and spoke in favour of the Irish bid during the presentation that clinched the Games for Ireland.

The Government's change of heart is largely due to WEG Ireland's failure to secure.the necessary £6 million sponsorship for the event. The company is currently in negotiation with a number of major backers but, with no firm commitment on television coverage, no deals have been finalised. Although the FEI is in communication with over 20 television carriers worldwide, no scheduling has yet been guaranteed.

According to a survey conducted among national equestrian federations within the FEI, it is estimated that the 1998 Games would attract a minimum of 75,000 visitors to Ireland for the two week fixture, with a predicted input of over £100 million to the economy.

It would be a serious blow to. both the horse industry and tourism if the Games were lost to Ireland. The Government would also lose the £1.5 million bond given as guarantee to the FEI.

If WEG Ireland is forced to concede defeat however, it would not be the first time that a host country had pulled out of staging the Games. The 1994 fixture was originally due to be held in Paris, but financial difficulties including the loss of Government support resulted in the Games being moved to the Hague.