French Prime Minister Manuel Valls officially declared the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 open at the d’Ornano Stadium in Normandy on Saturday night local time, with 21,000 spectators welcoming athletes during the parade of nations.
A parade of athletes from the 74 participating nations, an incredible musical and hi-tech lightshow extravaganza featuring over 100 horses, the Garde Républicaine and giant Mexican waves entertained a sellout crowd.
FEI President Princess Haya and Laurent Beauvais, President of the Games Organising Committee and President of the Lower Normandy Region, welcomed athletes, officials, sponsors, spectators and media to Normandy for two weeks of world class equestrian sport in the heart of horse country.
Laurent Beauvais spoke warmly of the 3000 volunteers that will be working at the venues to optimise the Games experience, and many of them had the opportunity to parade in front of the spectators as part of the ceremony.
“The volunteers bind our organisation. We can all be so proud of them. For months now they have been our greatest ambassadors for the Games, the greatest ambassadors for Normandy and indeed the greatest ambassadors for France!” Beauvais said.
Princess Haya, speaking in French and English, also expressed her gratitude to everyone involved in making the Games possible. “On behalf of everyone here tonight, and everyone around the world who will enjoy these seventh World Equestrian Games, I want to thank the people of Normandy for so warmly welcoming us to this beautiful region,” Princess Haya said.
“I also want to thank the World Equestrian Games Foundation, Alltech, and the many volunteers who have given so generously of their time and energy. These Games could not happen without you. And of course, I want to thank all of the athletes who have come to Normandy to pursue their dreams. You are at the pinnacle of our sport; you have earned the right to be here through your hard work and dedication.
“Whether you win or lose, these Games are sure to be a highlight of your career. I am confident that you will represent our sport well and prove yourselves to be true champions. I wish you all the best of luck.”
Princess Haya then invited French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to declare the Games open, the first time in the history of the World Equestrian Games that there has been a Prime Minister at the opening ceremony.
The top-level French Government delegation also included Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Le Foll, Minister of Agriculture Affairs and government spokesman, and Thierry Braillard, Under Secretary for Sport.
French team member and former athlete representative on the FEI Bureau, Kevin Staut, and Anne Prain, President of the Ground Jury for Para-Equestrian Dressage took the FEI pledge on behalf of the athletes and judges.
On behalf of all the FEI officials, Anne Prain spoke of the spirit of fair play and integrity, while the athletes’ pledge was given by Kevin Staut: “In the name of all riders, I promise that we shall take part in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to our sport without doping, in the true spirit of welfare of the horse and of sportsmanship, for the glory of equestrian sport and the honour of our teams.”
A total of 478,000 tickets of the 500,000 on offer had already been sold before the Opening Ceremony.
Following the parade, spectators were treated to a stunning show designed and produced by the French agency, Skertzó. The show blended cutting edge 3D projections with live performances by 300 artists and 100 horses to take spectators along on an amazing journey showcasing that “all horse paths lead to Normandy.”
This year’s Games are the seventh edition of the FEI World Equestrian Games, and are officially the best attended, seeing record-breaking numbers with 74 nations, 969 athletes, and 1080 horses competing. An estimated 500,000 spectators and 500 million television viewers are expected to tune in to the Games.
The FEI World Equestrian Games are held every four years, in the middle of the Olympic cycle. The inaugural Games were hosted in Stockholm (SWE) in 1990. Since then, the Games have been staged in The Hague (NED) in 1994, Rome (ITA) in 1998, Jerez (ESP) in 2002, Aachen (GER) in 2006, and Kentucky (USA) in 2010.