TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO Hockey Board (TTHB) officials were still working feverishly with Government agencies to aid in the return of 23 members of the TTO junior hockey team from Chile, yesterday.
The 14 players of the Men’s Under-21 squad, five men’s Under-21 team staff members including head coach Darren Cowie and four staff personnel from the women’s Under-21 squad were removed from their COPA airlines flight after COPA officials raised concerns about the validity of the team’s PCR testing - a mandatory travel protocol step - because the document was completed in Spanish.
It was an ironic twist of fate after COPA officials accepted and boarded members of the women’s Under-21 team previously despite their PCR documents also being formulated in Spanish.
“Everybody is working assiduously to get the team home as quickly as possible...to try to get a solution,” said TTHB board member Garth Baptiste. “Rest assured there have been some sleepless nights but we are not trying to blame people, we are trying to get people home.”
Baptiste added the scenario had been nightmarish, but “our first priority is to get the guys back home at whatever cost.”
Point number three of the TT Travel Pass seems to have been the issue for COPA officials when the team was scheduled to return home Tuesday, ten days after the completion of the August 21-28 Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) Junior Pan American Hockey Championship in Santiago, Chile.
It sates: ”All travellers (including minors) must submit a negative nasopharyngeal (nasal swab) RT-PCR test result taken no earlier than 72 hours prior to arrival in Trinidad and Tobago. The PCR test must be in English only.”
The fact that the team was in Chile for ten days was caused by late bookings and last-minute arrangements made for the squads sometime after the Minister of Sport and Community Development signed off on $1.8 million for the teams on August 13.
Cowie, who severely criticised the TTHB’s lack of planning and preparation for this competition, told the Daily Express yesterday that COPA officials signalled Tuesday night the earliest available flight would be on Saturday.
Another concern is that the team may have to perform another round of PCR testing because of the 72-hour deadline and expiration of the validity of that testing.
There would also be additional costs associated with additional testing. Cowie said the players, who had boarded the plane before being requested to disembark, were taking the whole situation in stride.
The TTHB issued two media releases Tuesday advising about the delay in the team’s return, informing in the first was about an issue with the language of the PCR report, even though the contingent had already secured the necessary TTO TravelPass approvals to travel.
In the second late Tuesday night, headed:”Travel delays for the T&T Junior Men’s Team in Chile”, the TTHB advised that the 23-member contingent had been accommodated at UGO Hotel until their flights could be rescheduled.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Board has been working diligently with the Ministry of Sport and Community Development, The Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs to ensure that the situation is resolved as soon as possible,’ the correspondence stated.