Monday, April 15, 2024

Hockey festival’s slow death


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It hurts to see that the annual hockey festival has become just another event.

Its relegation to this rank has been caused primarily by the inability of the authorities to bring the Wildey AstroTurf facility back to world-class standards.

It has been in an unplayable state for the past four years and during that time the numbers participating in the festival have dwindled appreciably.

Quite frankly, foreign teams in particular will be reluctant to journey from Europe and North America to play on grass when they are used to better.

The same will also apply to some from the region.Who can blame them?  This year there’s only token representation from Europe and the numbers are far from what they used to be from the Caribbean.

There was also an admission from president of the Barbados Hockey Federation(BHF), David Rouse, that even local players have lost interest in the game in general and he expects fewer numbers in the festival.

That statement more than any other puts the state of play in perspective. Back in the day, scores of hockey players were so enthusiatic about participating in the tournament that they would take vacation to coincide with it.

It was worth every second on and off the field as the organisers planned a good mix of competition and leisure. One of the other bright spots is that it created a national buzz so that around festival time even those from outside the hockey family took an interest.

The media coverage was extensive in both print and broadcast. After all, you couldn’t ask for a better example of how sports tourism should function.

Title sponsor Banks Holdings thrived on the exposure of its brand and of course the number of cases sold! It is hard to contemplate that Banks is no longer a sponsor.The two went hand in hand in a marriage that seemed to be smooth.

Their divorce may be shocking, but at the end of the day it’s the bottomline that counts especially in an economic environment that doesn’t appear to be as fluid as it once was.

Obviously, with fewer numbers to patronize the Banks brand it becomes less attractive in a very competitive market where similar beverages are being sold at the same low prices. Let’s not take this aspect likely as we need to keep sober analysis as to why we have reached this point in an event that used to be one of the jewels in the sports tourism crown.

It helped to increase numbers in the proverbial “slow” summer for hotels and guest houses, and the foreign exchange it generated. From my experience in the field,I think Run Barbados may have been the only one of its ilk that could rival the hockey festival in the areas just mentioned.

To think that 29 years after its birth, the future of this tournament is in limbo unless there is a concerted effort to repair the AstroTurf.

The thing that baffles me most is that there seems to be no urgency to fix the facility given its importance to the sport and the part it has played in bolstering sports tourism. 

After all, we still participate in major tournaments and while it is better than nothing at all, the half-court at the University Of The West Indies surely can’t be an ideal surface to prepare for competition at the highest level.

I know there’s division as to who was responsible for letting the Wildey AstroTurf run to ruin, but we have to move past this stage and focus earnestly on its rehabiliation as soon as possible for hockey to begin moving at pace again.

Just recently a Government official was talking about improving facilities for the benefit of sport and I assume for economic benefits as well, so I hope that the AstroTurf will be prioritised because this fits perfectly into their scheme which can work if it goes beyond just words.

It becomes politically correct to say these things over and over again, but who are we fooling if the people aren’t seeing any action?

The reorganisation of the sports tourism department means that becoming stronger partners with sporting bodies who promote sport with an international flavour, is even more relevant now than before.

I have said before that the rehabilitation of the AstroTurf can be a joint Government/private sector project if the costs for doing so are too much for one institution to carry on its own.

I know there were talks between a German company and local stakeholders in the past year but it appears to have fallen through.

We must keep looking for other options if one or the other isn’t working. The hockey players shouldn’t be the victims because the will of those who are in a position to make a difference  seem to be on pause.

Indeed, first-hand evidence of this inertia is being witnessed with the downsizing of the current hockey festival which by any description now is just a slight improvement on the normal domestic competitions.

We will only get it back to international standing with world-class facilities.

Is anyone listening?

• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.


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