The first edition of the Barbados International Hockey Festival started in 1986 and was then known as the Banks Brewery Hockey Festival, or more affectionately as the ‘Banks Festival’, and sometimes simply as ‘The Festival’. The tournament was founded by Barbadian Hockey and sports stalwarts Winsmore Humphrey, and the late icons of local sports - Mike Owen and Tony Cozier. In the early days, the ‘Festival’ attracted over 1,000 players from 60 teams, across 10 countries. The Festival prides itself on delivering the experience of a solid balance between good Hockey, outstanding sportsmanship and colourful social events, on an island that lends itself so naturally as a magnificent sports and vacation destination. Since 1986, the tournament has played unbroken in Barbados annually, a legacy threatened by the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. While Hockey activity in Barbados has undeniably slowed under the government directives imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic on the island, the Barbados Hockey mantra of fun, sun and Hockey continues to fuel the sport and keep it alive and ‘sticking’ (pun intended).
In August 2020, towards the tail-end of the ‘first wave’, the Barbados Hockey Federation (BHF) was able to stage the 35th Annual Barbados International Hockey Festival, to the delight and appreciation of players and fans alike. The 2020 Festival incorporated some novel changes to the way Hockey was played on the island, which included frequent hand and equipment sanitization, the incorporation of safety officials to the technical officials’ team, charged with ensuring a COVIDsafe environment for players, as well as a truncated format; playing over four days instead of the traditional seven. The 2020 Festival came as a welcomed break from COVID-fatigue and its additions contributed to players and officials feeling safer while participating, and led to the successful execution of another wonderful Hockey tournament. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions and uncertainty at the time, the vibrant tournament was unable to welcome any visiting offshore teams, and while that was disappointing, it was certainly understandable.
As COVID-19 continued to persist into 2021, there was a hope that by August, when the tournament is normally staged, we would be able to welcome our touring teams to our shores once again, but while travel was a bit more open than in 2020, it was still prohibitive for most. Coupled with the travel challenges, sports also were under more restrictive instructions as an increased measure to fight the pandemic, which added to the uncertainty about the staging of our signature event. If that wasn’t enough, compounding the 2021 challenges were the ravages of a hurricane, and blankets of volcanic ash settling on our playing surfaces; the after-effects from our neighbor’s volcano eruption. Despite these mounting challenges, the 36th Barbados International Hockey Festival was successfully held from August 15 to 21, 2021 and was once again played in our truncated format and with only local teams - but still with all of the flare, colour and Bajan vibes the Hockey Festival has been known to showcase.
What else has been happening? The BHF began construction on a new pavilion with spectator seating. Currently in the process of being erected on the eastern side of the Wildey facility, the two-storey building will feature elevated seating, multiple restrooms, team changing rooms, showers, rooms for officials and a new office. We are excited about the new pavilion and the value it will bring to our visitors and members for future tournaments and events. Its construction is expected to be completed by February 2022, meaning it should be available for our next big event, the 37th Annual Barbados International Hockey Festival, currently scheduled to take place from August 21 to 27, 2022.
It is our hope that the new pavilion will not just house players, fans and officials, but also play host to our hopes and vision for a lively rebirth of Hockey on the island. That it stands as an inviting beacon and siren call for all to come our lovely corner of paradise and enjoy all that the island and our beloved Festival has to offer – fun, sun, (beaches) and Hockey.
Teams and clubs from all over the world are already making inquiries and booking their Barbados Hockey experiences [because the term ‘tour’ just doesn’t do it any justice]. The pitch is ready, our grounds are ready, our team is ready. We continue to welcome all to our Hockey Festival, and hope to see you in 2022!