When I heard that WEG’s eventing show jumping was being held in a giant soccer, er, “futbol” stadium, I cringed, imagining a sad-looking sea of empty seats. But equestrian sport in Europe is an entirely different beast than it is in the States — less a mysterious niche and more a source of fierce national pride.
The energy in the stadium today was palpable, a electric current that ran through everything. It was manifest in billowing flags and the forward lean of fans in their seats. The announcer’s voice foamed with enthusiasm, rousing the crowd to a fever pitch again and again. There was an earthquake rumble of gasps when rails fell and cheers when they didn’t. Each clear round was rewarded by a voluminous surge of music that almost, but not quite, overwhelmed the boisterous roar of the crowd. My surprise that the horses and riders were able to maintain their composure never did wear off.
As the afternoon wore on the intensity grew, the atmosphere becoming indistinguishable from any other action-packed game in any other stadium on any other continent. Ultimately, sport is sport. Fans are fans. Everyone craves something to root for, a partaking of something shared, the assurance we’re not alone.