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Sylvie Robert: “This crisis has made us more aware of what unites us all”

Wednesday, 01 July 2020

Photo © private collection
Sylvie Robert, event director and president of GL events Equestrian Sport, says the announcement of the 26th edition of Equita Lyon was important for the equine industry. "We had to show the industry our support, motivation and enthusiasm," Robert says. Photo © Le Progrès / Joël Philippon.


Text © World of Showjumping



At the end of May, Equita Lyon opened their ticketing sales for their 26th edition – scheduled for the beginning of November 2020. World of Showjumping spoke with Sylvie Robert, event director and president of GL events Equestrian Sport, about the importance of setting an encouraging example and how difficult it is to navigate the ever-changing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This situation, which brought the world to a lockdown, is completely unprecedented. It has been sudden, violent, and calls us to humility,” Sylvie reflects. “A virus, an invisible enemy, sent everyone home: It's unbelievable. We are all affected, concerned, and all have a role to play in stopping the spread of the virus thus preserving human lives as well as the economy. This crisis has forced us to look closer at the centre of our lives; our consumption patterns and our actions – values that will have to be even more essential in the years to come.”

While many other events have opted to cancel, Equita Lyon has opened their ticketing sales for 2020. “To date, no one is able to predict the world as it will be at the end of October. We don't know what we will or will not be allowed to do, we don't know if the virus will continue to circulate among the population, and so on,” Sylvie explains about the decision to go forward with the event. “The whole world has been in the dark, and it is essential now when the restrictions are lifted around the world to continue to be careful and to observe the barrier gestures to stop the circulation of the virus. Nevertheless, faced with this unknown, we cannot afford to sit and wait for a treatment or vaccine to be found. We must move forward! An event like Equita Lyon and its Longines Equita Lyon Concours Hippique International require a whole year's preparation. We cannot wait until the end of the summer to decide whether or not to launch the 26th edition. We need to work today to deliver an event in October. Equita Lyon and the Longines Equita Lyon Concours Hippique International must remain an essential standard bearer of the best that the French and European horse industry has to offer.”

As one of the most loved events on the indoor circuit, Equita Lyon now plays a huge role in helping the entire industry get back on track. “The announcement of the 26th edition of Equita Lyon was important for the equine industry,” Sylvie says. “We had to show the industry our support, motivation and enthusiasm. In France, we were in lockdown for eight long weeks and sport competitions are timidly starting again at the moment. The morale of professionals, riders, riding school directors, etc., was at its lowest, and the announcement made them feel less lonely. As the organiser of an event that brings together the entire European equestrian industry every year, I wanted to let these professionals and fans know that we will continue to support them, by hosting an event that is important on the world stage, in terms of sport, business and innovation. The first step was therefore to let the entire industry know that we will continue to play our role of support and representation. It was also important to make it known that our overall fares – those for ticketing or stand rental – will not increase. And even if the rates applied to us as organizer increase, there will be no repercussion on the rates applied to our audiences. This is another way for us to support the industry.”

“It is obvious that the current crisis will leave indelible marks on each and every one of us,” Sylvie answers when asked how she sees the post-pandemic world. “For more than twenty years, I have been telling the teams around me that ‘we must never settle for compliments’ - and this is even more true today. A tiny, invisible enemy has called us all to order, has brought the world economy down, and I believe it has allowed us all to be humble and creative. In fifteen years, we have seen a tremendous professionalization of equestrian sports around the world, but can the model of yesterday remain the model of today? I'm not sure...”

Photo © Didier Michalet pour "It is obvious that the current crisis will leave indelible marks on each and every one of us,” Sylvie Robert says. Photo © Didier Michalet pour

As jumping is not a contact sport, Sylvie believes that the behind-the-scenes management will not be the biggest challenge with the current restrictions. “The management of the stables already imposed major restrictions, so I do not fear the application of even more drastic measures,” she explains. “The biggest challenge will of course be the management of the flow in the show. We will of course follow the regulatory requirements; we will not put our visitors at risk – that's obvious. To date, we are working on new models which incorporate, for example, a wider time range or very precise gauges. Every day, we have new ideas to create more complete models, but we remain dependent on the measures that the government and sports institutions will ask us to implement.”

“The French government has expressed its support for the event industry, in which the GL events Group – to which we belong – plays a major role,” Sylvie tells about the co-operation required. “We remain attentive to announcements in this regard. Equita Lyon and its Longines Equita Lyon Concours Hippique International have always been partners of the French Equestrian Federation and the FEI. We are therefore all moving forward hand in hand, working together to find innovative solutions to preserve our event, the industry, its economy and its public. But the main decisions will be made by the national governments. Belonging to a group that is a world leader in its sector allows us to participate in discussions at the highest level and to be a major player in the construction of new models.”

“This ordeal that we are going through allows us to put priorities back at the centre of the debate, and the main priority remains the human one,” Sylvie answers when asked if she can see any positive outcomes of these pandemic times. “The quality of a relationship of trust is priceless and this crisis has made us more aware of what unites us all: Solidarity and the search for good for the benefit of the greatest number.”

Sylvie is no stranger to navigating challenging times – something that Equita Lyon’s symbolic status clearly proves. “When Equita Lyon was founded in 1995, we were just service providers,” she recalls about the event’s early years. “The first edition was an undeniable popular success, but financially very difficult. We took up the torch again for a symbolic sum. It was quite a gamble; we were the owners of the event with a very significant liability – which we needed ten years to absorb. However, we have always believed in its potential. We have wanted to bring together the whole equestrian family, from the enlightened amateur to the international rider. Less than ten years after we took over, we organised our first 5* competitions, both in dressage and showjumping. This was our first great recognition. We were integrated into the World Cup circuits in 2008. In twenty years, the exhibition area has grown from 30,000 to 140,000 square metres. Of course, the work of my team was rewarded when we were chosen to host the World Cup finals in both dressage and jumping in April 2014. Today, the Longines Equita Lyon Concours Hippique International hosts four FEI World Cups, as well as all the circuits of the French Equestrian Federation. We are very proud of the place that Lyon has rapidly taken on the world circuit. For this 26th edition, all of our twenty employees are now working partially and at home. What will this pandemic and this unprecedented situation have changed? Let's talk about it at the beginning of November! We are currently creating our working models, to create the event of a safe future.”


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