By Rawle Welch
Following the disclosure that Guyana has won the bid to host the 2017 Indoor Pan American
Cups from October 14-22, Kaieteur Sport (KS) posed some questions to President of the Guyana Hockey Board (GHB) Philip Fernandes (PF) in relation to the staging of the event and preparations leading up to its hosting and here are his responses.
KS- Now that Guyana has been awarded the rights to host the 2017 Pan American Indoor Cups what does it mean for the sport of hockey to be hosting such a high level tournament?
PF-Over the years, the Guyana Hockey Board has been appealing to the Global and Regional Federations of the sport for assistance with an artificial turf for hockey. An artificial surface became mandatory for international hockey competition over 25 years ago and Guyana has been struggling ever since to keep abreast with the game competitively, largely as a result of not having such a surface. Now that indoor hockey has been gaining more recognition on the international calendar, Guyana is finally in a position once again to host an international competition as we do have indoor facilities. Having the Diamond Mineral Water Indoor Championships every year since 2004 has given us the confidence that we can host a successful tournament and also gave the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) confidence in us.
This tournament is of great importance to local hockey and to the country. Depending on how many teams enter, this tournament can bring an estimated 400 to 700 people to Guyana as it accommodates a maximum of 24 teams, each comprising of 12 players and a minimum 3 officials plus a number of Tournament and PAHF officials and spectators. We intend to
showcase Guyana as an excellent choice as host country. The competition is going to be streamed live online and so we will receive global exposure. Thousands of people witnessed the last Pan Am Indoor four years ago and with the growing reputation of this version of the game, we expect bigger numbers this time around.
We have a lot of young people who have started playing hockey through our schools programme and who will be afforded the opportunity for the first time to see the game’s stars performing live. This opportunity will no doubt go a far way to exciting and encouraging our new players and broadening the sport’s fan base.
KS- I know personally you’ve been working for years to host such an event what challenge (s) does it pose for the GHB?
PF-The biggest challenge I see for the GHB is to ensure that the playing facility is brought up to international standard. This will require quite a bit of work as we are currently considering the National Gymnasium, where indoor hockey has been played for the past 5 years, as our first option. Specifically, the areas to be addressed in the gymnasium are the playing surface, the washroom facilities, the power supply to the building and the changing and officials rooms. Some of these will require very minor upgrades and will result in a much improved facility from which local sports can benefit well after the tournament has been completed.
KS- I guess by now you would have apprised the Ministry of Sport and the NSC of this new development, could you say what was their response?
PF-We have had meetings with the Director of Sport prior to submitting Guyana’s bid as a host nation to ensure that the Ministry and NSC would embrace the opportunity. The Director has been very positive in his outlook and very supportive of our idea to host. Since the bid has been awarded we have been in contact and plan to have a walkthrough of both the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall and Gymnasium to measure the benefits of each option. Whatever we decide together will of course take into consideration cost-effectiveness, while trying not to compromise the quality of the tournament.
KS- Have they consented to add unmitigated support towards the hosting of the event and to what extent?
PF-We have not discussed specific dollar amounts as we, the GHB, are still putting together our budget for the tournament. While we have a rough idea of the major expenses, we are discussing the details with PAHF to ensure we capture every responsibility of the host nation. Once this is complete we will be meeting with all the major stakeholders, including the Ministry and the GOA, to discuss what is possible.
KS- The sport over the past few years has really come on leaps and bounds and we are now considered to be serious contenders at the regional and Pan Am levels, what has been responsible for this encouraging forward thrust?
PF-One of the major reasons that we have been able to produce such encouraging results in the indoor version of the game is because we have facilities on which to train. While access to the National Gymnasium is limited since several sports share the venue, there is no substitute to preparation on surfaces similar to those being used in competition. In the outdoor game, the contrast between the grass fields which are used for preparation locally and the artificial hockey pitches used for all international competition is vast. This places our teams in a position of great disparity and makes it very hard to match the performance development of nations with artificial pitches.
In addition, we have had a string of excellent coaches including Timothy McIntosh and Robert Fernandes who understand indoor hockey and have been able to ingrain the right habits and bring out the best performances from our players. This coupled with an abundance of local talent coming out of our junior national team which benefitted from a GOA assisted Olympic Solidarity team support grant makes up a winning formula.
KS- I know facilities have always been a challenge, but now that we have been declared host do you think we can get everything ready to be an excellent host and perhaps leave a lasting legacy in the minds of visiting teams?
PF-I believe that our hospitality and ability to coordinate the event can match any nation in the region. The major challenge does come down to the quality of the playing facility which does not only include the playing area, but the basic services such as clean, reliable power, good washroom facilities, a proper secured recreational area with good food and beverage options available to our guests. These will be the major focus in the early months as they will be largely responsible for the kind of memories that are left in the minds of our visitors.
I think that these are all achievable targets and I am excited to transform our facility into an exciting oasis of good hockey, comfortable accommodation and pleasant memories.
KS- Have you been able to work out an approximate cost of hosting such a high profile event?
PF-We are still finalising our budget, but we anticipate at this point being able to stage the tournament for a figure between $5M to $10M. This figure will heavily depend on how many teams enter the competition as there are several costs like transportation, insurance etc that are specific to the number of persons. While such costs may seem substantial, hosting the tournament here in Guyana removes the heavy travel costs of our teams which always have to raise the funds to compete while providing us with a multitude of additional benefits, some of which I mentioned earlier.
KS- Have you begun to put in place a Local Organising Committee (LOC) that will be responsible for releases and updates leading up to the event?
PF- Yes. We have an organising committee in place which has been functioning to stage the Diamond Mineral Water International Hockey Festival every year and so we do have local experience and expertise. In addition I have reached out to former hockey players and officials including Troy Peters, Bruce Lovell along with Chris Fernandes and Conrad Plummer, who were among the major organisers of our last local international tournament held here in Guyana in 1988. We have been having many supporters of the game offering assistance and I feel confident that we will have an even stronger organising committee for this event than we have ever had. I expect to have this full committee in place before the end of the month.
KS- How soon could we see the teams announced to commence preparations to excel in the tournament?
PF-All teams will have a deadline of April 30th in which to indicate their participation in the tournament. In the meantime, an official from PAHF will be visiting during the last week of March to have a look at the facilities and infrastructure and to meet with the local Federation on related matters to the tournament. This means that by April we will have a clear direction and can begin serious preparation for the competition.
KS- Is there any other matter of relevance?
PF-Guyanese hockey players have been robbed the opportunity to compete on the international stage in front of their own fan base for many years. The last time we hosted an international competition in Guyana was back in 1988 where I myself made my international debut. It was an experience like no other in my life and I am very excited to be able to provide our current crop of national hockey players a similar opportunity. We do hope that Guyanese take the opportunity to come out and see what the game is all about while they cheer on our boys and girls to victory.
Additionally, while the men’s team was fortunate to play in international competitions of this nature and with some measure of success, our women have not had this opportunity so I guess it is a good feeling to know that they will have this chance to play at this level and in front of home support.
Suggested photo: (new).
Photo on server Claude as: Jonathan Roberts 1: Caption- Part of the action at the proposed National Gymnasium.
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