All of the relevant factions have come forth completely exonerating the government of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Aquatics Federation (BAF) of any blame in the water polo blunder that surfaced for Team Bahamas over the weekend in Wildey, Christ Church, Barbados.
The under-18 (U18) boys national water polo squad qualified for the gold medal match of the 28th Central American and Caribbean Amateur Swimming Confederation (CCCAN) Water Polo Championships, but couldn’t take part because of a scheduling error. They were booked on a morning flight out of Barbados on Sunday, and the gold medal match was slated for later that evening. They were awarded with the bronze medal for their efforts.
Speaking on the matter, Bahamas Water Polo President Chris Illing, who started the program 15 years ago, said that it was a “calculated risk” that turned out for the worst. He said that water polo parents themselves, who organized the entire trip, inclusive of the purchase of airline tickets, feel “foolish” to have ended the trip early because of a shortage of funds and are blaming themselves.
In this medium, fault was thrown at the feet of the government of The Bahamas by opposition spokesman for Youth and Sports Picewell Forbes. Bahamas Aquatics was also lambasted in a number of sports circles.
“The quote in The Nassau Guardian was misconstrued into a political agenda and degradation against the government of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Aquatics Federation, and this was not the intention of the statement that was given,” said Illing. “Bahamas Water Polo considers that it is appropriate to state up front that Bahamas Aquatics, our governing body, was not advised by Bahamas Water Polo that the team was still short of its fundraising goals and would not be able to remain in Barbados if they qualified for the gold medal game. Further, the decision to purchase the tickets with the funds raised was an independent decision, made entirely by water polo, even though the community knew that the dates they were contracting would not allow them to compete for the gold medal if the team advanced to this round. The government of The Bahamas nor Bahamas Aquatics were involved in this decision, and in hindsight, this should have been done before the tickets were contracted as we knew the schedule of games. This concern should have been highlighted to our parent body,” he added.
With water polo taking the full blame, it is anticipated that the federation and the government would be exonerated, but there are still those throwing shots at both.
In an interview with Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle, prior to a Cabinet of The Bahamas meeting on Tuesday, Rolle said that she was completely unaware of the situation, and encouraged the respective federations, coaches and parents to work with the ministry to ensure that there is proper communication and accountability.
“We’re all in this together and there needs to be no blame,” she said. “Whatever the situation is, it needs to be looked at to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. We certainly support all of the aquatics teams and any way the government can assist, we will try to assist. Where there is a dire need and the funds are properly accounted for, we will assist the respective teams.”
On Monday, BAF President Algernon Cargill said it was the water polo parents who erred in planning, and to blame the government or Bahamas Aquatics is “irresponsible, reckless and malicious”.
In 2018, The Bahamas’ under-16 (U16) national water polo team qualified for 2019 UANA (Swimming Union of the Americas) Pan American Youth Water Polo Championships by placing second at CCCAN in El Salvador. Those championships will run from August 14-24, in Balmain, Couva, Trinidad and Tobago. In agreement with water polo leaders, the federation decided to bypass CCCAN this year in order to fund the Pan Am Youth team to the tune of $40,000-plus seeing that it is a qualifier for junior world championships in 2020. In order to prepare for this year’s Pan Am Youth, water polo leaders made a decision to participate in CCCAN over the weekend which is a qualifier for the 2020 Pan Am Youth in Edmonton, Canada.
“The water polo family independently tried to raise the funds required to compete in CCCAN and although this tournament was not budgeted for by Bahamas Aquatics, a $4,000 contribution was made (by the federation) to assist with water polo’s fundraising efforts,” said Illing. “A wide net was cast to assist water polo with funding and the difficulty is that there are so many competing requests in the Bahamian community, that this request was not successful despite the very best of our efforts.”
Be that as it may, Illing said that they still traveled to Barbados and would have achieved their ultimate goal of qualifying for next year’s Pan Am Youth Championships, as well as acquire much-needed exposure and experience.
“The decision by Bahamas Water Polo to compete in CCCAN was multifaceted,” he said. “Water Polo Pan Am 2019 will be played under new FINA (International Swimming Federation) rules and the team needed a preparation tournament with strong opponents under the new rules. The team also wanted to qualify for Pan Am in Canada in 2020 and CCCAN is the only qualifier for that event. The main objectives of the CCCAN tournament were achieved, although we would have loved to play the final match.
“The players competed well with the new rules and the larger field, the opponents gave us very good competition and showed areas we need to improve on for Water Polo Pan Am 2019, and the team qualified for Pan Am 2020. We remain committed to not allow the closed doors and the impact of our Barbados experience to deter us in continuing to develop water polo in The Bahamas.”
In closing, Illing said that after airline tickets were purchased, they were informed by CCCAN that other teams had withdrawn from the competition and an appeal was made to the organizers to alter the tournament schedule. He said that request was denied. Illing concluded by thanking the sponsors who stepped up to help in their efforts for international success.
“We thank the government of The Bahamas, Bahamas Aquatics, Comfort Suites Paradise Island, Hurricane Hole Development, the MedNet Group, Lowe’s Wholesale, the McPike Foundation and Nassau Agencies,” said Illing. “We do wish that more corporate citizens would reward the hard work of our athletes by contributing more to assist with the development of not only water polo, but sports in general in this country.”
Cargill, who is in Gwangju, South Korea for the staging of the 18th FINA World Aquatics Championships, confirmed that it was never the intent of the federation to send a team to the CCCAN Championships. He said all efforts were geared toward the UANA Pan American Youth Water Polo Championships in August.