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CHIO Aachen event director Frank Kemperman: “The most challenging part has been all the emotions”

Thursday, 04 June 2020

Photo © CHIO Aachen/ Andreas Steindl CHIO Aachen event director Frank Kemperman. Photo © CHIO Aachen/ Andreas Steindl.


Text © World of Showjumping



World of Showjumping meets CHIO Aachen’s event director Frank Kemperman at his office, which has the envious view of the beautiful warm-up ring adjacent to one of the most famous jumping arenas in the world. The grass is green, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the roses are blooming. However, just a stone’s throw from here, the stables are empty – and so are the tribunes. Earlier in the spring, Kemperman was left with no choice but to cancel the world’s biggest equestrian celebration due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Supposed to have started the day before our meeting, and have run through to 7 June, Kemperman is visibly melancholic as we sit down. 

“It’s supposed to be beautiful sunshine this weekend and the next,” Kemperman says – reflecting on what could have been. “It’s a strange feeling, I catch myself thinking about how glorious the weather would have been during the opening ceremony.”

Kemperman has been faced with several challenges over the last months, first the cancellation of The Dutch Masters – where he is sport director, then the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of CHIO Aachen. “In the middle of all this, the most challenging part has been all the emotions. The disappointment, the feeling of missing what we all do every year, then trying to keep everyone motivated,” he sighs. 

“As to The Dutch Masters in Den Bosch, that was obviously a worst-case scenario being realised,” Kemperman continues. “Everything was built up, down to the last flowers in the ring. Then one hour before the first start, it was cancelled. It is actually not the first time this happened in Den Bosch; nineteen years ago – when we had the foot-and-mouth disease – it was also cancelled in the last minute. Just like this year, the first horses had already arrived.”

“Obviously, a last-minute cancellation of an event of this size creates a very difficult situation – financially and practically,” Kemperman says. “We’ll end up losing a lot of money, how much is not clear yet. For some events, having this happen would kill them.”

hoto © World of Showjumping The tribunes in Aachen will be empty this year. "Our ticket-holders have been very understanding of this situation, even supporting us by not claiming their money back," Kemperman tells. Photo © World of Showjumping.

“In CHIO Aachen’s case, we decided to cancel early enough so the financial damages are not the same. However, we do have a lot more permanent costs here compared to The Dutch Masters and a year-round staff of 35 – so it is also a catastrophe if we speak in economic terms. For events, and sports in particular, it is very hard times,” Kemperman says. “Thankfully we have had backing from our partners and sponsors not to forget spectators. Our ticket-holders have been very understanding of this situation, even supporting us by not claiming their money back. It’s been extraordinary to feel this kind of support! And our ticket office has done an incredible job!”

As to hosting major events in immediate post-pandemic times, Kemperman expresses his uncertainty. “I think we will have to expect several cancellations for the indoor season at least,” he says. “Many organisers will soon have to decide on whether or not to open ticket sales, and they are faced with a lot of questions – a) are there available venues; several indoor arenas are still used as medical facilities and look like hospitals, b) will they get permission to host the event, and if yes – what will the conditions be, c) can the horses and riders travel to the event without restrictions? Right now, only time will tell how many big events we will have this year.”

“I hope for the sport that it can pick up again at the highest level, but we have to ask ourselves if it will be financially sustainable? If hosting events come on the condition to do so without spectators, the answer for most five-, four- and even three-star organisers will be no, as both hospitality and ticket sales are big parts of the budget. On top, you need sponsors – otherwise it is not possible,” Kemperman points out. 

Photo © World of Showjumping. For 2021, Frank Kemperman and his team aim to bring back CHIO Aachen as we all know it: Filled by atmosphere and spectators. Photo © World of Showjumping.

“Furthermore, should spectators be allowed we have to consider if it is possible to build up the event infrastructure in a way that will be in compliance with the social distancing rules we have today? Seating – especially when operating with different sessions – will also be a huge challenge to organise safely, as will hospitality areas, so we have to find a way to make this possible and at the same time respect the distancing that is required. However, this also brings down the capacity considerably as well as the income from the ticket sales,” Kemperman points out. “Overall, I think it will be very difficult, but we have to be creative and open to see the possibilities. We should also look towards other sports, such as soccer, to see how they are handling it. Hopefully, the new policy from the FEI will assist and help the organisers as much as possible and give guidelines as well as risk management tools.”

“However, the FEI can only do as much – assist and advise – because the situation is different from country to country – even from region to region – so eventually it’s down to the national, regional or local authorities to decide. This makes it a difficult landscape to navigate,” Kemperman says. “Right now, we are all in the same boat and we all have to help each other to survive this pandemic – and show solidarity.”

As to whether or not the sport will return to its pre-pandemic global image with a calendar filled to the rim of five-star shows, Kemperman is doubtful. “Everyone is talking about the new normal, and we have to see now how much the world will change long-term,” he says. “Will travel ever be the same? I hope so, but the answer will affect if the sport can go back to be as we knew it prior to the pandemic. The answer will probably also affect the interest from sponsors and partners. I think some events might not survive, but we have to believe and hope that most do. Luckily, in CHIO Aachen’s case, we have a healthy economy, a reserve and we can afford this year but there will be others that can’t. Our sponsors and partners have been with us for many, many years and we have been there for each other through good and bad times. But it is not hard to imagine that for some companies the consequences of this pandemic will be more severe than for others; the airlines for example are suffering tremendously while I think bike producers never had a better year than 2020.”

Photo © World of Showjumping Over the last weeks, Kemperman has opened the driving arena in Aachen for some of the world’s best jumpers with tracks build by Frank Rothenberger. Here Maikel van der Vleuten and his father Eric out for training. Photo © World of Showjumping.

“We should also not forget that these are very hard times for the professional riders too,” Kemperman says. “They make a living out of horse trade and prize money. The trade is more or less standing still, and without prize money too there is not much income. I think they are all ready to make sacrifices to bring the sport back.”

Kemperman is doing what he can to contribute to that. Over the last weeks, he has opened the driving arena in Aachen for some of the world’s best jumpers with tracks build by Frank Rothenberger. Even in a pandemic year, one of the world’s most famous show organisers can watch horses galloping across the historic showgrounds. “In one year, I hope the world will be normal again,” Kemperman says. “That we can sit next to each other. Because what is CHIO Aachen? It’s the people, the atmosphere, super sport and of course it’s socialising – enjoying a meal together, or meeting over a drink. More than anything CHIO Aachen is tradition. Our visitors, they like to have it as it has always been – and we’ll work hard to give them that: The real CHIO Aachen.”


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