The eyes of the hockey world will turn to the Caribbean Island of Trinidad and Tobago at the end of March as the second of three men’s Hockey World League (HWL) Round Two events bursts into action.
“Action-packed, welcoming and with an electric festival atmosphere,” is the expectation of Reyah Richardson, non-executive chair of the Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Board (TTHB), as she talks about the event and her hopes for hockey on the island.
For Trinidad and Tobago, hosting the event is a big deal. The team is ranked 33rd in the world but has ambitions to move up the rankings and make their mark on the international hockey scene. A third place finish at the 2013 Pan American Cup, a first-ever win at the 2014 Commonwealth Games [a 4-2 win over higher-ranked Malaysia] and a top of the table finish in Round One of the 2015 HWL season, all serve to demonstrate that this is a team who knows how to win.
However, the team that went from that victorious Round One win in 2015 was well out of its depth in Round Two and ended the tournament in bottom place with no wins. Legendary player and coach, and T&T’s most capped player, Kwan Browne, says the team was just too inexperienced that time around. “We had nine under 21 players and the physicality of the tournament was too much for them. It's the fourth quarter where we were always really punished.”
Experience will not be such an issue this time around, with Browne (302 caps), captain Darren Cowie (128), Akim Toussaint (172), Mickel Pierre (119) and goalkeeper Andrey Rocke (117) all appearing on the team sheet for Tacarigua.
However, T&T does remain at a serious disadvantage compared to many of its HWL Round Two rivals when it comes to increasing the depth of quality in the squad. A small population base anyway is further compromised when you realise that hockey still remains largely under the public radar. As one young player, Jordan Reynos pointed out just before he set off to last year’s Junior Pan American Championships: “In Trinidad and Tobago, anybody that plays national hockey does so because we have a love for the game, we do not get paid, so the incentive definitely comes through a love for the game”.
“I have always been proud to hoist my national colours and represent my people but hockey is not a sport that is well recognised in the country. When I speak to people about hockey, the first thing many will say is ‘I didn’t know we had ice hockey in Trinidad’.”
But of course, hosting this tournament is precisely what the sport needs to increase its visibility on the island. Richardson says: “Tacarigua, where the hockey facility is located, is a residential community. So, to the local community, it provides the opportunity for residents to come out and view international teams as they play on local soil.”
The event also gives the local hockey community the chance to get involved in their sport. Whether as volunteers, concessionaires or spectators, hosting the event on their own doorstep affords the local clubs an opportunity to watch top class, international hockey; interact with participants and fans from other countries; and for some, there will be the opportunity to raise funds for local hockey projects.
The inspirational impact of hosting the event is another key factor, says Richardson: “This tournament not only increases the visibility of the sport in Trinidad & Tobago, but such a tournament, with the level of skill and tactics expected to be displayed, would be very attractive to any young boy or girl interested in playing the sport of field hockey”.
“Each time T&T hosts a tournament, young aspiring players are inspired to improve, compete and make their mark on the international level, and the TTHB expects this tournament to be no different in motivating the next generation of hockey players.”
As the tournament approaches, with the home side facing a tough encounter against Russia, it is not just the players who will be nervous. Hosting an international event is always a challenge, with a variety of stakeholders to be managed and integrated. In this case, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the PAHF and the TTHB, as well as the local organisers, will all have responsibilities to ensure that the event passes successfully. Richardson is an experienced official who understands just how important it is for all parties involved to work together.
“This is an FIH tournament being held in the Pan American Region. The FIH is ultimately in charge of the event, and is working with the TTHB to ensure that the preparations for the tournament are on track. PAHF’s role in this event will be reporting on the performance of the PAHF teams –Barbados, Canada, Chile, USA and Trinidad & Tobago.”
For Richardson, early preparations are key to success, along with hard work and a committed team of organisers and workers. “A strong, experienced, cross-functional organising committee is a must. There will be stumbling blocks along the preparation journey but the ability of all the people involved in the planning and organisation of the event to be resilient and tenacious permits for smooth sailing in the rough waters”.
“As with any event, there are challenges encountered that have to be properly managed so as to obtain a desirous end result, which is a quality, incident-free event that all participants - officials, participants and the fans – thoroughly enjoyed.”
With the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago, other government ministries and departments, and corporate Trinidad and Tobago all signed up as supporters of the event, TTHB is hopeful that the forthcoming competition will be a resounding success. One thing that will signify this more than anything is a full stadium.
Again, Richardson reports, the organising committee has been working hard in the lead-up to the competition to ensure that people are both aware and enthused about HWLR2. “We’ve been using the traditional forms of advertising, for example the use of physical and digital billboards; distribution of flyers in the community and in schools; media – print and electronic; appearances on TV and radio programs; along with the use of the social media platform – Facebook and Instagram, for example.”
So, it is all coming together in Tacarigua. The pitch, the match schedule, the media, the teams – everything is ready for the opening day of competition. The two factors that Richardson and her team cannot control are the fans and the results. But, she says, one can influence the other: “The T&T team and coaching staff have been working diligently and are excited about putting on a great show and being successful in front of the home crowd. For a team playing at home, the spectators, the fans and the families present are the twelfth player – urging and driving the team to work harder and strive for higher levels. The fans will give that extra push and boost of confidence that will motivate the guys. They are aiming for a top half finish and a move up the world rankings.”
HWLR2 starts on 25 March, the opening game sees top ranked team for this tournament Canada (World Ranking: 11) take on USA (WR: 29), followed by Chile (WR: 26) versus lowest ranked team Barbados (WR: 49). Then it is a clash between two teams unfamiliar to many PAHF fans, as Japan (WR: 16) take on Switzerland (WR: 30). The final match of day one, sees the home nation Trinidad & Tobago begin their campaign against Russia (WR: 22).
Tacarigua, Trinidad & Tobago - March 25 to April 2
PAHF teams: Barbados, Canada, Chile, Trinidad & Tobago, USA