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As the 2006 World Equestrian Games Approach, Frank Kemperman, “Emperor” Of Aachen, Speaks Out

Wellington, FL - June 28, 2006 – With his unassumingly modest temperament, it doesn't sit well with Frank Kemperman to hear himself referred to as an "emperor," but there is no doubt that Aachen is an equestrian empire of indisputable magnitude of which he has now been the managing ruler for more than a decade. Although some past emperors have historically been somewhat more "infamous," Frank Kemperman has deservedly earned the respect and admiration of his peers as a show organizer par excellence. Recognizing his professionalism, the IEOA (International Alliance of Equestrian Organizers) elected him Secretary for a number of years in the late nineties, under the chairmanship of fellow eminent Aachenite, Klaus Pavel, President of the ALRV. At the 2006 FEI General Assembly in April in Kuala Lumpur, Kemperman shouldered a new role as the organizing "face" of the FEI Jumping Committee.

Kemperman’s professional involvement with horses began when he worked for a horse dealer and came into contact with Dutch international rider Harrie Wouters v.d. Oudenweyer, a period about which he still talks fondly; “I worked for him as a groom and went to many international shows. I still remember these experiences,” he sighed. Modesty prevented him from adding, however, that this period conveniently encompassed the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal where he groomed for the Dutch show jumping team! "After that I started to do something more serious," he grinned.

Following his period of compulsory national service which he served in the Dutch army, Frank Kemperman moved to Lanaken to the well-known Zangersheide as manager of the stud farm and confessed, “It was the first time I was involved in organizing an international show.” Prior to his Aachen days, he also managed a Ministry of Agriculture equestrian testing station, Maastricht soccer club, and the Schaesberg racetrack, until he joined BCM as a director. “Then I was involved with many international shows; Modena, Mondorf-les-Bains, Berlin, Bremen, the 1992 Volvo World Cup final in Del Mar, and Maastricht,” among others. Part of his BCM brief was acting as media coordinator for Aachen, during which period he worked closely with Arno Gego (Aachen's former resident course designer) and, therefore, became well acquainted with the CHIO board.

Frank Kemperman was first approached to take over as Managing Director of Aachen in 1993, but first he had other commitments to fulfil with regard to the financially ill-fated 1994 World Equestrian Games in The Hague. "The most important thing I learned is that it is not possible to organize such a huge event with an organizer who is not experienced.” He added, “It was a wise decision of the FEI to award the Games to existing organizers; for example, Aachen and Kentucky (2010)."

Frank Kemperman finally took over as Managing Director of the ALRV (Aachen-Laurensberger Rennverein e.V. – the organizing committee of CHIO Aachen) on September 1, 1993. Now fifty-one, Frank laughingly describes himself as a true European, "Born in Holland, living in Belgium and working in Germany." And his life has followed the proverbial "rags to riches" route, fulfilling an ambition that was born when he attended a local Westfalian riding school as a young boy. He smiles with unreserved pride when he explains; “I always used to think how wonderful it might be to work at Aachen one day – but as a groom, not as the manager.” Continuing, he explained, “I started organizing events and have now traveled all over the world, but once you have seen almost all the shows you know that there is only one [multidisciplinary] equestrian event in the world – Aachen.” Pondering the road he’s traveled, Kemperman added, “It was a dream for an organizer like me to get a job like this”. Now, after 13 years of wearing the Aachen mantle, he is set to competently steer a reliable course through the forthcoming World Equestrian Games.

Today he admits that in some ways Aachen has become a victim of its own success; “Aachen is the biggest show in the world and, in the equestrian world everybody knows the show. We are trying very hard to make CHIO Aachen just as well-known to non-equestrian people, comparable to everybody knowing that Wimbledon is the biggest event in the tennis world”. This admirable goal, however, has generated a promotional nightmare. Frank continued, “Although we promote the show everywhere, if somebody is interested and wants to attend we never have tickets left to offer them and 2005 was sold out for Saturday and Sunday!" Remarkable since the seating capacity in the main stadium has been expanded in the past couple of years to accommodate 30,000 spectators, with a total cap of 40,000 which includes standing space for 10,000. Kemperman added, "We do not want to solve the ticket problem by asking higher prices. The CHIO Aachen is a public festival and it should be possible for everyone to visit." For the 2006 CHIO, tickets ranged in price from 6 euros ($7), entrance and standing room around any of the arenas, to 248 euros ($296) for a one-day seat in the prestigious Mercedez-Benz grandstand. It's the latter, usually sold as special three-day passes, that are invariably sold out almost 12 months ahead of the annual CHIO, and many seats are held in perpetuity.

When the ALRV was founded in 1898, the show was held in Laurensberg (a rural area of Aachen) and included racing. Since 1924, when the event moved to its present site in Soers, many traditions have become firmly established. Kemperman said, “The old traditions of the Aachen show are very important and we should be very careful if we want to change them.” An example is the traditional ‘Farewell of Nations’ (the annual closing ceremony where the spectators stand and wave white hankies). Kemperman continued, “We should never change something like that. On the other hand something new, such as using a video-screen, are modern and are very well accepted by the spectators”.

Having traveled to most of the major show venues around the world, Frank described how he thought Aachen's character fitted into the global circuit of equestrian events: “Every show should have its own face. You cannot compare a show like Spruce Meadows with Aachen. I have visited Spruce Meadows and think it is wonderful show, but very commercial which is not possible on our continent.” Continuing, he said, “I think events that renew their programs, add some variety – shows, classes with around 35 to 40 riders – and try to create a good atmosphere are successful. I feel it is also very good to visit other sporting events and I have seen a lot of interesting things at places such as Roland Garros (French open tennis venue), the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Final in Hannover or Formula I motor racing”.

WEG 2006 – An Event Spanning Three Countries

The WEG budget of 17 million euros (a little over $20 million) includes 10 million euros in federal and local support for new construction and the expansion of existing facilities. Kemperman said, "It is important for us that we not only invest in WEG, but for the future of Aachen. The most important development with WEG 2006 has been the possibility to build a new infrastructure". The ALRV now employs nearly 40 full-time staff, and during the annual CHIO the take on board some 600 local volunteers, remarkably many of the positions having passed from father to son. This figure will increase to 1,500 volunteers during the two weeks of the World Equestrian Games in August 2006. Frank concedes that “without them it is impossible to organize the show”.

He also confessed that despite burning the candle at both ends for the past four years "the new disciplines we have had to organize has made it really fun. New people from our little equestrian world who are sometimes really different and interesting to work with. The goal to present a wonderful Games in all seven disciplines is a fantastic job." The organizers learned, however, following the first test event in endurance, that the track wasn't sufficiently horse friendly. Kemperman confided, "We had to reorganize our team and look for better loops. It's not so easy to organize an endurance event in three countries, but that was my own idea. It was a hard job to convince all the farmers and the (green) politicians to agree to the cross-country course. But after the test events everybody was very happy". In fact, the eventing riders themselves were so delighted that they've asked whether this can become a regular discipline at the annual CHIO in future.

Having lived and breathed WEG since 2002, it only remains for Frank Kemperman to "dream of a successful Games, and especially the last day with a special farewell parade starting in the stadium and finishing in the city, with many enthusiastic spectators. I am part of a team which will hopefully organize a fantastic Games in 2006 and will also organize something special in the future."

Despite his early days in the saddle, Frank Kemperman now enjoys a self-imposed riding exile due to "my bad knee, and the fact that the day only has 24 hours and I want to see my family sometimes are factors which made me decide not to ride anymore." In fact, riding these days is restricted to his mountain bike on which he whizzes around the show ground, radio in hand, always checking his backyard empire to ensure that everyone and everything is in its rightful place!

WEG Program: For the complete FEI World Equestrian Games Aachen 2006 program:

http://www.aachen2006.de/sport/Programm_e.html

This special report is a preview provided by PhelpsSports.com. Look for the debut of this new equestrian news website during the World Equestrian Games in August. Visit http://www.PhelpsSports.com for more information.

 

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