Darren Cowie, coach of the Trinidad and Tobago junior men’s hockey team, laments the woes faced by the squad, on and off the field, during the Junior Pan Am Hockey Championships in Santiago, Chile.
The TT team returned home on Friday, courtesy of a chartered Caribbean Airlines (CAL) flight from Panama.
Last Tuesday, the group was ordered off their Copa Airlines flight, from Chile to Panama, after TT authorities told airline officials that they would not accept the team’s covid19 PCR test reports in Spanish.
At the championships, the TT team finished sixth overall after being beaten 5-4 by Mexico in the fifth-place match.
A member of the hockey contingent, who preferred to stay anonymous, said, “The travel experience on Tuesday was an immense challenge for everyone. We all anticipated to return home, and then to be faced with the reality that we weren’t was naturally quite a disappointment.
But, he said, “The team and all staff stood resilient and handled the pressures of the situation with incredible strength. The team managers worked feverishly, in the middle of the airport, to make arrangements for us.
“The eventual process to return home on Friday went as smoothly as possible and we are all incredibly happy to be back.”
Cowie spoke of the lack of communication between the TT team at the Santiago International Airport and the airport authorities.
“It was a bit of a jarring feeling, not knowing what the next step is, especially the handling agents for Copa,” Cowie said. “They weren’t very helpful at all. All they were concerned about was getting us off the flight and almost pushing us on to somebody else’s responsibility.
“They refused to give us any information. The most was me giving my number and they promised they were going to call or, if they don’t call, I should call.
“ To this day, I’m still calling and messaging them, and no response. Our only hope was calling back home and seeing if it could be sorted out.”
Cowie acknowledged the inputs from Minister of Foreign Affairs Amery Browne and Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe to help the team return home safely.
In the preliminary round, TT, who were drawn in Pool A, were beaten by the United States 3-2 (August 24) and Argentina 9-1 (August 25).
TT defeated Brazil 4-2 (August 27) in the seventh-place game but fell to Mexico on August 28.
Cowie said, “It was a tough time we had, because we played with 14 players, and, in hockey, (we use) rotation substitutes to keep that high intensity.
“While teams had 18 players (including) seven players to rotate, we only had three, and that took a toll on the guys, playing back-to-back games twice. Physically it was really hard on the guys, because six guys tested positive for covid before we travelled, and then we found out the date that we had to travel that we were travelling.
But he concluded, “Performance-wise, I can’t really fault the 14 guys how they gave everything that they could. Aside from the Argentina game, all the games were very closely contested.”
Cowie pointed out that the team’s late arrival in Chile, on the scheduled start date (August 21), did not help matters.
Asked what he had learnt from the episode, Cowie replied, “It’s difficult, because I love these players. Some of them I’ve coached since they were eight or nine years old.
“A lot of us do coaching, managing and administration for free. It’s not fair to us and it’s not fair to (the players) as well, because you give them less than a year to prepare for tournaments that opposition teams are preparing for four years.”