Interview with Philip Fernandez: Hockey in Guyana |
January 18, 2000
|Planet Field Hockey
Off The Crossbar
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Off The Crossbar is continuing our interview series with an international cultural focus. We will be featuring players from all across the world, offering unique perspectives and insights into different hockey cultures and communities.
Philip Fernandes is a member of Guyana?s national hockey team He is also part of a famous hockey-playing family ? he, his brothers, and his cousins, have been core players for the Guyanese squad throughout the 80?s and 90?s. Although Guyana is not a well known hockey nation, they have produced some outstanding players. Canadian legends Patrick Burrows and Shiv Jagday have both been employed as coaches for Guyana, and speak with respect for the talent of the athletes there, including Philip. Off The Crossbar talked to him at home last week.
OffTheCrossbar: Where is Guyana?
Philip Fernandes: Guyana lies at the top of the South American Continent to the East of Venezuela. It is the only English-speaking country in the entire continent and as a result, its culture more closely resembles that of the Caribbean Islands. Guyana is about the size of England but with a much smaller population of only ¾ million.
OTC: What first got you interested in hockey?
PF: My father was a sportsman but was more into hockey than the several other ball games that he played. As a result, all my brothers and I (I have three brothers and no sisters) began playing hockey from a fairly young age.
OTC: What do you like about the game?
PF: Hockey demands many specific skills that take some time to learn. This makes hockey unique and challenging.
OTC: What do you dislike about the game?
PF: I dislike the fact that the rules make it difficult for first-time spectators to understand and therefore enjoy the game. Also that umpires? interpretations of the rules still seem to vary significantly between countries. That makes it difficult for players to perform at their best on some occasions.
OTC: How big is hockey in Guyana?
PF: Hockey is not very popular in Guyana and we only have around 200 registered players. The game is played only in our capital city among a total of six clubs.
OTC: What is the league like?
PF: Our league is played during the months of February to May and it consists of two rounds with the winner being determined on points on a round-robin basis. The league ends in time for our heavy May-June rainfall and hockey recommences in August until October during which time we run our annual knockout competitions and One-Day competitions. In November we run off our national indoor championships.
OTC: What drives the hockey community there ? what keeps it alive?
PF: The few people that play hockey absolutely love the sport. Even though our league is small, there is fierce competition and great enjoyment. We wouldn?t give it up for the world.
OTC: What is the club culture like there? And what is your club like?
PF: Since we are a small hockey-playing community, all of our players know each other and there is great amity even among rivals. Hockey players worldwide seem to enjoy hanging out together and in Guyana it is no different. We seem to gravitate toward each other when hanging out in the bars or clubs.
As for my club side, we party together, hangout or even play other sports as team ? soccer, volleyball, cricket etc. We are really a bunch of friends who play hockey rather than a bunch of hockey players brought together by a club. We only just began a women?s programme late in 1999 but it is coming along well.
OTC: Does Guyana have Astroturf for hockey? Any plans to build one?
PF: Guyana does not have an artificial surface though it is discussed very often at our meetings. We recognize the inherent need for this kind of facility and are constantly racking our brains for ways in which we can obtain one. Money remains our biggest setback as very little financial assistance can be expected from the government and it is difficult for our local hockey board to raise the necessary funds. It is hoped that we can generate the interest in the coming years to increase our hockey-playing fraternity enough to justify asking for assistance from either the PAHF or the FIH.
OTC: What is your national team training program like in terms of preparation, practice and touring?
PF: The national team has had many changes in their methods of preparation over the last several years. This is mainly due to our efforts to engage foreign coaches for short stints (we can only afford short stints) to complete our preparations leading up to tournaments. Some of the coaches that have worked with us are Shiv Jagday and Patrick Burrows who are both largely responsible for our ability to compete at international level despite no artificial surface and substandard facilities and equipment in some cases. We owe them both a great deal.
In preparation for tournaments we would normally assemble a squad of about two-dozen players some six to eight months prior to the tournament. After training for a few months, a reduced squad would try to travel to Trinidad (the closest Island with an artificial turf) for some warm-up matches, then return to Guyana for the final month of preparation.
OTC: When is your next big event?
PF: We currently are assembling a squad for preparation to compete at the America?s Cup in Cuba in June 2000.
OTC: What stands out as your best hockey moment playing for Guyana?
PF: Actually my most memorable moment was winning the Junior Caribbean Championships in 1992. I was the Captain of the team and also the highest goal-scorer of the tournament.
OTC: What is the best hockey you have ever seen?
PF: I myself have only seen hockey played at the Pan American Games level. Aside from that I have been limited to whatever tapes I can borrow, rent, buy or steal J
OTC: How will hockey flourish in Guyana in the future?
PF: Hockey in Guyana is troubled by two major difficulties, that of inconsistent rainfall patterns within the recent years and also fading light early in the evenings. These two problems can be solved but with some difficulty. In the case of rain, it has become imperative for Guyana to have an artificial surface. Aside from the obvious benefits, an artificial surface would permit us to play hockey year-round and would solve the problems of shortened seasons or postponed matches due to rain.
The difficulty with light unfortunately is a political one. Our government seems reluctant to shift our clock forward or backward at different times of the year (as they do in North America) to accommodate for early nightfall in the latter half of the year. This problem is significant as for half of our year, matches have to be shortened or played only on weekends when we have to compete with the more popular cricket for use of the playing field.
There is interest in hockey among young people and commitment from our current players to teach the sport but for hockey to flourish in Guyana those two difficulties need to be solved. We are making every effort to do so.
OTC: How will hockey flourish worldwide in the future?
PF: I think that TV coverage is a significant factor in popularizing field hockey and generating interest in the sport. In our country cricket has become a major interest among children and young adults and a great majority of this interest can be attributed to the recent strides the sport has made to provide increased television coverage. Field hockey matches either on video or television are extremely rare in this part of the world and, I think to some extent, worldwide. Better availability of the game at its top level can not only encourage onlookers who may happen to glimpse a match on television but can help to improve the standard of hockey in the far-reaching countries therefore making the game more attractive for spectators and potential recruits.
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