GOA head sees ‘no difficulty’ in gov’t granting hockey land

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By Avenash Ramzan

President of the Guyana Olympic Association, K.A. Juman Yassin, has made a passionate plea to government to assist the Guyana Hockey Board (GHB) in securing a plot of land on which to construct a home for the sport.

For years now the Board has been making efforts to start construction of its own facility, but that has remained only a dream as requests for land have not yet been approved.

“I don’t see the difficulty in finding a piece of land to give them; I really don’t,” a visibly frustrated Yassin told reporters on Thursday.

The GOA boss made the comment in direct response to challenges identified by hockey coach, Robert Fernandes, that the Male and Female national teams could face at the Central American and Caribbean Games at Barranquilla, Colombia, from July 19 to August 3.

One of the biggest handicaps Guyana would face at the tournament is that all their opponents have an artificial turf on which to train. The CAC Games, like all other major hockey tournaments globally, are played on artificial turf. Unfortunately, Guyana does not have that luxury.

“We’re going to play, as (coach) Robert (Fernandes) said, (in the CAC Games) and we’re going to disadvantaged from the commencement. When you now half-way or quarter-way (in the competition) then you begin to improve, but you may have lost so many matches that you out,” Yassin added.

“Identify a piece of land somewhere and say ‘this is it’ and let them (the Hockey Board) say yes, let them say no. So the plea is made to (Sport Minister) Dr. (George) Norton to canvas his Cabinet so hockey could get this piece of land.”

Both the Male and Female teams have qualified for the CAC Games this year

Yassin further stated, “Over the years promises have been made by entities outside to give Guyana an artificial turf, free of cost. I have a bone now to pick now with Dr. Norton; a very small bone you know, like a lil bangamary bone, not a shark, but I have a bone to pick with him.

As soon as he became Minister there was a function somewhere and we raised this aspect about giving land for hockey and he said within two weeks you’re going to hear (something), but I do not believe the Hockey Board has heard anything tangible or constructive.”

A home for local hockey has always been in the pipeline, as the GHB has held discussions with the relevant authorities to make such a facility a reality.

For decades, the sport of hockey has been utilising cricket grounds, the National Gymnasium on Mandela Avenue and the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall on Homestretch Avenue.

Over that time, the sport has emerged as one of the success stories of Guyana’s sporting landscape, medalling at high-level international competitions.

Fernandes on CAC Games challenge

In December 2017, GHB president Philip Fernandes identified the lack of a proper training facility as a major challenge for the Male and Female national teams preparing for participation in the 2018 Central America and Caribbean (CAC) Games in Colombia.

A month earlier, Guyana’s female team stunned the voluminous Jamaican crowd at the Mona Sports Complex in Kingston, Jamaica, with a 1-0 victory in the Ladies final of the CAC Qualifier.

The Guyanese men however, had to settle for silver after a disappointing end to the Men’s competition, which had to be cancelled after 20 minutes of play due to faulty issues with the field lights.  Since Jamaica got the edge of Guyana in the Pool round by winning 3-2, they were adjudged the winners.

The gold and silver medal performances earned both teams places at the CAC Games, which Fernandes described as “another level” altogether.

“You go to the qualifiers and you win, but when you go to CAC it’s another level. Definitely the teams have to be better than they were at the qualifiers. We think we could prepare teams that are within striking distance of medals at the CAC. Guyana’s hockey has never medalled at the CAC, but that’s not an impossibility; we have a good core of players and with the right training and preparation for it I think Guyana could in fact be in a position where we could actually strike at a medal at CAC,” Fernandes explained.

“Right training and preparation”, as Fernandes pointed out, is key to Guyana doing well at the 2018 event. However, there is a hurdle to that being a reality.

GHB president Philip Fernandes

For years, the GHB has been clamouring for a plot of land to erect a home for hockey, one where national teams, both senior and junior, can properly train and developmental programmes can be conducted.

“That is a very, very important issue for us. One of the challenges we have is that we don’t have the facility to train; we have to go and ask different private facilities for time on their facilities, usually on cricket grounds, for hockey to train and that in itself is a challenge. There will be a rainy period between now and CAC and then what do we do during that time? And then sometimes light fading early (and) facilities don’t have lights under which to train…these are the challenges we have,” Fernandes highlighted back in December.

He continued, “A home for hockey would of course help a great deal with all of this, because we would then have a facility where we can actually schedule hockey training for our national teams and for our juniors and for developmental programmes. In addition, the CAC Games, as any other international tournament, is played on artificial surface and it’s difficult to duplicate those conditions. Whenever we go to tournaments there are certain skills the players have to use that you cannot practice on grass so during those first few training sessions when a tournament starts and even those first few international matches our players are then re-familiarising themselves with the techniques and so on that you need for the artificial turf. That’s a big, big handicap that we have against the other teams. All the other teams in CAC will have an artificial surface in their country and Guyana is the only team to qualify who does not have that facility.”

Fernandes told News Room that the GHB has already submitted a proposal to the Department of Sport “of what we would like to develop, on a piece of land to have as a home for hockey.”

He added, “We have not asked for funds to pay for it; we do not necessarily have the funding in our pockets, but we have a plan as to how to go about getting the funds.”

Fernandes pointed out that the first step in the process is to “have something tangible or something in writing, indicating that this land has been identified for hockey to be priority.”

The GHB head further explained, “Once we have that then it is our intention to go and lobby the International Federation, we would obviously have to approach the private sector for funding as well, maybe in return for sponsorship, branding or even the name of the facility and garner those funds. So the first step is to get the approval for the land; the Minister has in his hands a proposal, he has promised to take it to Cabinet and wherever else it needs to go to be approved and we are right now just hopeful and awaiting some response from them.”

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