A dream. No less so. At the Paris 2024 Games, the equestrian events will take over one of the most iconic venues in the Olympic setup. The Château de Versailles. A postcard setting.
At the helm of the three equestrian disciplines – show jumping, eventing and dressage – is Frenchman Jean Morel (photo below). FrancsJeux continues its series of interviews with the sports managers of the COJO Paris 2024.
FrancsJeux: What was your life like before the COJO Paris 2024?
Jean Morel: I’m a former Olympic rider. In dressage. After my sporting career came to an end, I stayed in equestrianism, but on the other side of the scenery. I was director of the Salon du Cheval. Then I joined the French Equestrian Federation (FFE), where I was in charge of sports development.
Your past experience of the Olympic Games?
It goes back a long way, to my riding days. I took part in the Barcelona Games in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996. Before that, I was part of the FFE delegation at the 1988 Seoul Games. After Atlanta, I followed all the following editions until the Rio 2016 Games as a journalist and photographer, on behalf of my press agency specializing in equestrian sports.
What do you remember most about the Games?
The 1992 Barcelona Games. The most festive Games, with a culture close to that of France, a village on the port. We were close to everything. This was the last edition where horse riding was at the heart of the event. After that, we were often isolated. For athletes, the Games are not always just about the events. To live them to the full, it’s important to soak up the atmosphere in the broadest sense.
The file at the top of the pile on your desk?
Horse welfare. At the Olympic Games, there are often differences from one edition to the next. Some countries favor their riders, others their mounts. But horses, like riders, are athletes in their own right. They must be treated as such. From the outset, I’ve worked hard on the course, the terrain and the stables, to put the horses in the best possible condition. This means finding cool, calm stables, ground where they won’t be damaged, terrain that doesn’t break up too much, and keeping an eye on the heat…
Horse-riding venues: strengths and challenges in the run-up to the Games?
For the first time in history, the Olympic equestrian events will be held in the grounds of a castle. And not just any château. Versailles, with a cross-country course along the canal, and extraordinary images. What’s more, the Games will leave a legacy on the estate, as we’ll be using the menagerie, a place no one used to go to anymore. The Paris 2024 Games will give it a new lease of life. The challenge, of course, is to organize equestrian events in a venue that’s not made for it. We have to adapt, find solutions, identify terrains and courses taking into account both the constraints of the château and the requirements of the International Equestrian Federation (IEF). Not easy, but feasible. We teamed up with an external service provider, GL Events, which is very familiar with equestrian events. In Versailles, eventing riders in particular will have a course with conditions equivalent to those of major international competitions, but in an incomparable setting.
Paris 2024 will be a success for equestrianism if…
First of all, we’ll be able to call it a success if the events go off without a hitch. Secondly, I’d like the riders and horses to be able to express themselves in the best possible conditions. Finally, we will have succeeded in leaving an extraordinary image of France.