One of the main topics during the PATHF Congress was the discussion of a new system for the qualifying to the PanAmerican Championships in the different categories (men, women, juniors and youth). If one goes back to the ‘old days’ it was simpler. There were essentially only five member nations down in the ‘cone’ of South America, the Central America rarely participated outside their region, Mexico and Puerto Rico were regulars, with Cuba joining on a capricious basis, and then we had USA and Canada before Greenland joined the fun. So a major qualification system was not really needed, and the main Championship was THE regular competition.
But now the irony is that there are more interested participants and nevertheless less competition opportunities for them. Most of the other South Americans have become active, the Dominican Republic is a force to be reckoned with, and the Central Americans want to measure themselves against their more advanced colleagues. However, the size of the continent and the lack of resources on the part of most federations create a dilemma. If you need to travel from North to South in the qualifying process and are successful, then you soon need the money to travel again to the main Championship, perhaps again in the South. So imagine that you then try to go back to government, sponsors and player families and find the money if you actually get a slot in the World Championship in another continent!
For some short period, the idea was to create a ‘second division’, as a way of eliminating qualification tournaments. This meant that the only duplication of events was for those who moved up from one level to the next for the coming year. But this concept did not work out, because it put teams from all over the continent together in the ‘second division’, and who would find it easy to obtain the funding for long-distance travel in something that was not even a meaningful Championship.
So in connection with Mario Moccia taking over as a President, the emerging new proposal was now to return to a regional qualifying concept, BUT with the difference that the focus should not just be on the qualifying but on what the regional events could –and needed to – do in terms of ‘forcing’ more regular competition among neighbors, especially among those of approximately equal strength. There was general agreement that such tournaments, which might also spur additional competition in between the qualifying events, are absolutely necessary to raise the standards for both individual countries and the continent as a whole. With rare exceptions, the ‘number 3 and 4’ teams from the continent have been doing very poorly when getting their opportunities in various World Championships, and no clear trend for improvements has been seen.
So the idea now is that 10 teams should be allowed for each PanAmerican Championship, assuming of course that in the younger age groups you actually get that many teams interested in participating. The slots should then be distributed in a standardized way among three regions: the South, where Chile and Uruguay have been responsible for much of the progress in recent time, would get FIVE slots. This means that the ‘big four’ (ARG, BRA, CHI, URU) would often qualify but that there would always be room for at least one team from among the newer ones, where for instance Venezuela has come on strong. ONE slot would be set aside, as some kind of development tool or motivation, for the six Central American countries to fight about in their regional events, as they would otherwise never have much of a chance to get to the Championship.
This leaves FOUR slots for a rather evenly matched group of seven member federations: CAN, GRL and USA from the North, and CUB, DOM, MEX and PUR from the Caribbean. So the three North teams now have to ‘mix it up’ with some other teams instead of just doing the qualifying among themselves. This could be a really interesting group, often with a real struggle to avoid being left out from the subsequent championship. Much will depend on the resources that GRL and CUB may or may not have in order to participate in the lower age groups, for GRL due to travel expenses and for CUB due to internal politics. I suspect all these 7 member federations are a bit apprehensive about the implications of this approach. It really makes them have to weigh the advantages of more frequent and intensive competition against the risks that too many of the others will turn out to be stronger.
It should be noted that the system above applies only to the process leading to the PanAmerican Championships; the system for the quadrennial PanAmerican GAMES, which is controlled by the continent’s Olympic organizations and not by PATHF, remains unaffected, and only eight teams will qualify for the men’s and women’s competitions in Toronto 2015.
Finally, increased competition of good quality and between teams of about equal strength sounds really exciting. But this will highlight another current weakness: the standard and the quantity of the top level referees in the continent have gone downhill in recent time. So as there now will suddenly be increased demands, there is a major challenge for the new Referee Chief, Salvio Sedrez, to move quickly to strengthen the troops. On the other hand, for the longer term, if one has some patience, the intensified competition level should also in itself help improve the refereeing, as it provides the necessary basis for growth.