It was September 2016 when West Vancouver Field Hockey Club (WVFHC) accepted the invitation to host the third and final women’s HWL Round Two event in April 2017. It is fair to say that the months between accepting the invitation and the moment that the gates were shut after the final match were a heady mix of frenetic activity, the occasional panic and a huge sense of achievement.
WVFHC’s ability to host a major international event was proven when the club partnered with Field Hockey Canada (FHC) to host a series of Canada versus USA men’s matches. The success of this test series, both from a playing and an administrative point, demonstrated that the club was ready to step up to the challenge of an eight-team event. [It was eventually a seven team event as France decided not to take their place in HWLR2].
Emma Gibbons is manager of West Vancouver Field Hockey Club and she says, “When we heard we had been invited to host HWLR2, we were excited to accept and to leverage the opportunities hosting such an event would present.”
West Vancouver Field Hockey Club has a 40-year history and has its roots in an earlier West Vancouver Girls League that was founded in 1968; many of those girls became active members and enrolled their children. In the early days, WVFHC played on the grass pitches at Hugo Ray Park but in 2011, after 10 years of fundraising and lobbying, Rutledge Field was opened, becoming the new home to WVFHC and one of only a handful of dedicated field hockey facilities in the greater Vancouver area.
The club has a large membership – more than 2000 active members – and currently supplies six of the men’s national team and eight of the women’s national team.
So it was from a base of a strong, supportive and hard-working hockey community that the club, working with Field Hockey Canada, the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) and the International Hockey Federation (FIH), set about preparing for the event.
First, a Local Organising Committee (LOC) was set up, comprising members of the club and representatives from FHC. Among the personnel who were recruited from the club membership to fill specific areas of expertise were a medical officer, a Technical Director and a General Manager – the latter two both having international hockey event experience. Several meetings, either face-to-face or via teleconference, were held to ensure all the planning and implementation was on track. The club also communicated and met with the District of West Vancouver on a regular basis to navigate the various event requirements and permits necessary to put on an event of this scale at the field.
FHC provided the link between the LOC and the FIH and PAHF. The national association was also the budget-holder for the tournament and successfully applied for financial support from the Province of British Columbia and Government of Canada.
One of the steepest learning curves for the LOC, says Gibbons, was the level of complexity involved in running an international tournament. FIH event manager Geraldine Heinen was on hand to provide guidance but, for many of those on the ground, this was new territory. All elements of hosting a tournament were managed and tracked throughout the planning and hosting process to ensure nothing was overlooked. The LOC created ‘leads’ for each area, who reported back on a regular basis.
But all the planning in the world cannot mitigate every issue. Technical director Geoff Matthews takes up the story: “The weather was our largest challenge. Vancouver has unpredictable weather, particularly during the spring time. We had a cold winter followed by an extremely rainy February and March. This created the challenge of ensuring that the field drained properly so that the tournament schedule was not jeopardized. To mitigate this, work went on in the months leading up to the tournament to intensively clean the field and improve the drainage. We had an extraordinary group of field maintenance volunteers who were at the field every day during the tournament from early morning to evening. During the heaviest rainfall, we organised volunteers to ‘sweep’ the rain off the field toward the drains. We are very proud that there were only two games delayed by 45 minutes throughout the duration of the tournament.”
There was also the question of how to keep the remainder of the club happy with the level of club hockey provision for the tournament’s duration. HWLR2 coincided with the start of the Spring League, a program involving more than 1,600 junior players. For two weeks, the logistical nightmare for the club’s committee was catering for the juniors at alternative venues. But the payback, in terms of involving and inspiring the young players in an event of this calibre, was felt to be worth all the effort.
And of course, this wasn’t the only benefit. As Gibbons says, “An event such as this raises the profile of the sport and the club. The tournament attracted attention from local and international media and showcased our club and the facilities to a wider audience. We worked hard to leverage this, proactively contacting the local media and inviting VIPs to the event.”
The LOC were keen to involve the local community as much as possible. Local schools came to watch the hockey and local retailers were invited to get on board by donating goods for welcome packs and appreciation packs for the athletes, officials and volunteers.
There is also the question of legacy. Rutledge now boasts a new seating stand, new goals, and a better internet service. And, within the ranks of the club members, there is some invaluable knowledge gained from running an event of this magnitude. Local umpires and technical staff managed the training games and a new army of more than 100 volunteers understand what it takes to make an event progress smoothly.
For Gibbons and her team at WVFHC, the enormity of the task ahead had always been clear. This was a case of a domestic club stepping up to host a circus of activity which, at that level, is so much more than just about the action on the field. There was the media, the officials and VIPs to accommodate, the catering, the medical facilities – the list is endless. “The level of detail and attention paid to the overall event experience was a surprise,” admits Matthews. “Our primary focus was creating an excellent field of play for the athletes, however we had to pay equal – if not more – attention to all the other elements that create the event experience.”
While the hockey action was the star, how it was reported was vital and to this end, the PAHF had a strong communications team working with FHC and the LOC. Ali Lee was PAHF Media Officer at the event. She explains why her role is so important: “On-site media is now, more than ever, an important part of having a successful event. Whether it's local journalists, social media experts, television or video personnel, it's important to tick the boxes on the minimums and do those well. This includes strong, reliable internet connection along with power and a secure, covered area for journalists and photographers to do their work. A dedicated wi-fi network for host media is also useful as so much can be done on smart phones and the emerging social media trends are reliant on things such as Facebook live, snapchat or Instagram stories which all need to be done remotely.
“In addition, having clear communication to teams about proper post-game protocol, like walking through a mixed zone, and a professional looking area for interviews will showcase that media operations are an important part of hosting an event.
“The event in West Vancouver had a smooth media operations team between the great communications from Field Hockey Canada to the many, many volunteers. Team liaisons helped communicate and/or translate for post-game interviews, volunteers did a great job securing the media area, and FHC's communications team always ensured all of the technical requirements were met daily even in extreme weather conditions.”
The HWLR2 event in West Vancouver was a success and the people involved are able to look back and congratulate themselves for a job well done despite the problems created by the weather. But, as Gibbons points out, hosting an event is far from plain sailing. Finances and budgeting will always create issues and local providers often have to use innovative solutions to see the standards of provision set by FIH. At WVFC, for example, tents were used to provide offices for medical services, umpire rest areas and the volunteers. A tent in a car-park played host to a drinks area. Food for the volunteers was donated by local food retailers.
The story of West Vancouver Field Hockey Club and its first venture into hosting major internationals is a successful one that really highlights the importance of working closely with all the parties involved and talking with each other through every step of the journey.