Omaha may play host to an international equestrian competition in 2017 — that is, if the CenturyLink Center can beat out venues in London, Hong Kong and a Dutch city called 's-Hertogenbosch.
The Switzerland-based Fédération Equestre Internationale announced this week that it is considering bids from those four cities to host its 2017 World Cup Finals.
Both Omaha and London have said they would host the organization's show jumping and dressage finals. Hong Kong has put in a bid to host only the jumping event, while 's-Hertogenbosch has bid to host dressage, the “horse dancing” event that requires riders and horses to perform specific movements.
Omaha's CenturyLink Center, which has played host to two U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and two major equestrian events in recent years, is up against London's O2 Arena, which was used during the 2012 Olympic Games.
Local equestrian enthusiasts have been pushing to land more major events in Omaha. The International, a two-day horse jumping competition held in April, attracted about 140 riders from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Ireland and South America – and an estimated 17,000 spectators. About 8,500 of those were paid ticket holders.
The World Cup would be much larger, running for four days, attracting participants from across the world and having an estimated attendance of 80,000. Past events in other cities have attracted more than 70,000 people.
Lisa Roskens, president of the board of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, said this year's competition helped lay the groundwork for a larger event.
“The whole point of bringing The International was to prove to the show jumping world that Omaha could handle something of this caliber, and also to show Omaha what this sport is all about,” she said.
The FEI has said it will make a decision on a host city at its meeting in June.
Roskens said she's optimistic the organization will recognize that Omaha's smaller size can prove to be an advantage for sports looking to attract big crowds.
“We show up, we attend, we get excited,” she said. “It's not just another thing in the city, and I think that gives us a unique position.”