by Shaun Fuentes
Travel continues to become more demanding on athletes, teams and officials as the world of sport and international travel continues to expand and evolve.
Major sports teams have enjoyed tremendous growth in modern times. All teams are now traveling farther on more demanding schedules. Regional cricket and football teams are up and down more than in past years with the different regional series and Concacaf Nations League. Transportation requirements have become tremendous, and each management team needs to be aware of the various means and quality of airline and ground transportation service. In some of the larger nations and states, competition among airlines for sports team bookings is intense, and service is top quality due to the competition. Package offerings are now available as several of the large airlines have branched into the hotel business which is something airlines in the Caribbean have not exactly moved into.
Traveling with a team, a football team in particular presents specific members of staff with unique challenges of ensuring the team performs optimally on match day and has a build up with as little obstacles as possible. These include the team managers, physicians, physiotherapists and media officer who has the responsibility of ensuring communication within the team and for the public is timely, precise and efficient.
Being organised is crucial and having a clear understanding of what is needed by the traveling party has to be the starting point. The coronavirus has thrown up new challenges which is why it’s important to have healthy and cordial relationships with various parties from hotels, the host organisations, government and healthy agencies both at home and destination as well as travel agents and airlines. Communication becomes key here. When standard travel issues pop up, you’re not left stranded with last minute flight or hotel changes or having to go on your knees for visas or travel passes.
The team doctor has the enormous task of ensuring they anticipate avoid or overcome all the possible obstacles that can adversely affect the preparation and performance. This requires meticulous planning and execution with a lot of proactiveness.
Preparing for an away match has always been the bigger of the challenges but now even matches at home can be tedious due to the amount of overseas players coming from various destinations.
The health risk profile of the country being traveled to or from, the availability of nearby medical institutions, availability of flights as well as alternative options in the air, climatic conditions, the state of the hotel and training camp proximity between venues; level and mode of transportation, and security matters are just those at the top of the list.
Being equipped with all the relevant information at least 7-10 days before a trip is ideal but sometimes information can still be challenging to confirm up to a day before departure.
Footballers have always struggled with long flights in cramp positions and the smaller federations or clubs are not always able to afford the business class or extra leg space seating.Some also have to take the option of one or two connecting flights to get to their final destinations which can sometimes see travel time spanning anywhere from 7-14 hours for what could be a three hour journey, It was only during the final stages of the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign that the T&T European-based players, perhaps with more bargaining power due to winning results, were able to successfully demand business class travel for flight upwards of 6 hours.
During the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign for qualifying and warm-up matches, traveling through Panama City for connections became such a norm, that the T&T FA had developed a relationship with one of the restaurants in the airport in order to accommodate the entire team for meals in a reserved space whenever the travel included a lengthy lay over.
The manager also has to ensure that travel documents and passports are in order. Expiry dates and visas continue to be a challenge for teams today. Most times a final selection is not confirmed up to 5 days before scheduled departure. Then we come to the luggage aspect. Football and cricket teams travel with a huge amount of gear and equipment, not to mention personal baggages of the traveling party. Different airlines offer varying weight and baggage fee options which means teams always have to have contingency funds on hand at all times. Laundry service around the team hotel is also necessary as sometimes the cost for laundry at the hotel can be too much for the budget. Second option training pitches is always good to have.
Not all teams are able to have advance party of one or two persons traveling which would obviously make arrivals that bit smoother.
According to Sello Motaung. FIFA medical officer and honorary part-time university lecturer, some general topics that may serve well when being covered prior to travel include hygiene principles, counteracting jet lag effects, nutrition and hydration strategy and travel plans and destination details which most times is important for athletes psychological preparedness and peace of mind. Responsible behaviour is also important for destinations. This entails safety issues, professional behaviour, following protocols, understanding and respecting cultures and laws, and yes, protection against sexually transmitted disease and criminal activity.
Of course having the knowledge is one thing but the key is execution and this involves having a cooperative staff willing to go the extra mile backed up by a fair amount of resources and support.
So yes it's nice to say you get to experience different cultures and destinations, you've been here and there, your favourite food is from a place some may not travel to in their life-time. But the rigours of traveling in sport particularly if you are from the Caribbean and have to constantly move outside of the region can take its toll. But hey! The journey is never meant to be easy right.