By Avenash Ramzan
On October 14 2017, Guyana will embark on hosting its first-ever Pan American level hockey championships. The tournament, called the Indoor Pan American Cup, will feature two simultaneous competitions for Men and Women and serves as the Pan American Continental Qualifier for FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup, scheduled for February 2018 in Berlin, Germany.
The 2017 Indoor Pan American Cup will take place at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall (CASH), in Georgetown, Guyana, which was renovated in preparation for the Caribbean Basketball Under-16 Championships held one year ago.
The CASH used to be a regular home for local indoor hockey and was the first venue used when Guyana began its Diamond Mineral Water International Indoor Hockey Festival back in 2004. The festival was able to fill the venue to near its 3,000-spectator capacity and launched Guyana on the map as being one of the top regional hosts for indoor hockey.
This year the competition will be one of the biggest ever in its history, which dates back to 2002. There will be eight nations contesting the Women’s competition and seven contesting the Men’s with each tournament being represented by participation from North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Only the 2010 competition, held in Venezuela, was larger and by just one team.
The tournament will see the return of all four semi-finalists for both genders from 2014 in competition and promises to be one of the most highly contested.
In the Men’s competition, the Canadian side, which boasts the most first place finishes (four), will comprise of some players not entirely unfamiliar with Guyana and the CASH. Several of these players have participated in the annual Diamond Mineral Water International Indoor Hockey Festival over the years and have already established their own following among the local supporters.
Similarly, Trinidad is likely to have several players in its ranks who have competed in Guyana as the island which has supported the local hockey festival with the greatest attendance of foreign players throughout the years.
The mighty Argentina and USA have both been finalists in the past with the USA winning the championships against then hosts Argentina back in 2008.
Barbados rounds out the participation from the Caribbean, and although not known particularly for their indoor game, always produces players with tremendous skill, while Mexico returns to the competition for their third time as the lone Central American entrant.
Guyana has competed on three occasions in this competition, resulting in a fourth place finish in 2005, fifth place in 2010 and their best showing, third place, in the last competition held in 2014 in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The seven teams of the Men’s competition- Guyana, Argentina, Barbados, Canada, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and the USA- are all strong contenders for the gold, although Canada remains the favourites having won the competition a record four times out of six.
The same seven nations will compete in the Women’s competition with the addition of Uruguay, which has been the surprise of Pan American hockey over the past few years.
Uruguay has been the biggest mover on the world rankings and even qualified for the Indoor World Cup back in 2010. Argentina and Canada both have enjoyed the winner’s podium twice, while Trinidad won the inaugural Women’s Indoor Pan American Cup back in 2002.
The Guyanese women, who have competed creditably over the past 10 years in the outdoor version of the game, will taste their first international indoor hockey competition this year as the competition’s least experienced side.
Most of the Guyanese players, however, would have had the experience of competing in the Diamond Mineral Water Indoor Festival over the past several years and will be familiar with the conditions and the vociferous home support.
Apart from the usual strong spectator support for the competition and those accompanying the visiting teams, the Guyana Hockey Board (GHB) has plans to have all matches streaming live.
Viewership throughout the Americas is expected to be in the tens of thousands and the GHB intends to use the opportunity to also showcase Guyana as a sports and recreational destination, especially to the many viewers who may not have heard much about the beautiful country.
The Pan American hockey website http://www.panamhockey.org has the match schedule posted and will be following the event as it unfolds.