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World Politics Hits Close To Our Polo Homes

June 9, 2014
Ukrainian Bike Polo

Ukrainian Bike Polo

If you follow world news at all, then you know about the conflict going on between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, go watch these episodes of Vice News). For most of the polo community, this conflict is just something that we hear about on NPR or read about while browsing our favorite online news source. Most of the time, I would imagine, we read the headline or first couple lines, see that the conflict is still happening and then move on to the next article/story. Something so far away seems to have no real affect on our day to day lives so it has a hard time setting in emotionally. Unfortunately for some parts of the poloverse, tuning out the conflict is a lot more difficult.

As most of you probably do not know, the country of Ukraine has four bike polo clubs — Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and Kryvyi Rih –with ten, ten, seven, and three players in each club, respectively. While these 30 Ukrainian players have been able to keep themselves far away from any physical backlash of the Russian/Ukrainian conflict, they still find themselves afflicted by the unfortunate situation. More specifically, Ukraine will not be able to send any teams to the 2014 European Hardcourt Bike Polo Champion in Padova because of how the conflict has destroyed the hryvnia (the Ukrainian currency). Dmytro Zhukovsky of Kyiv Bike Polo shed a little more light on this:

“…In February 1 USD cost close to 8 Hryvnias and 1 Euro close to 11. After the start of the Russian campaign in Crimea, and then in Eastern Ukraine, the Hryvnia fell to 12 for 1 USD and 17 for 1 Euro. This means that salaries lost their values in the same proportion. For example – in February, the Schengen Visa had a price of 385 Hryvnias (35 Euros) and now it’s 595 Hryvnias.”

Not only did the value of the hryvnia plummet, but the workers were essentially working for less money because of the price of imported goods skyrocketed at the same time. This left the Ukrainian polo players unable to afford the cost of traveling the 1200 miles to Padova to compete.

As mentioned above, outside of the plummeting currency, Ukrainian bike polo hasn’t seen much other backlash from the conflict. Dmytro Zhukovsky shared more about this:

“Maybe the only other consequence, which was made by this situation, is that we decided not to invite Russian teams to our tournament and not to go to Russia for polo this year. I think it’s maybe the best option because of the current position. I understand that sports and politics have to be separated, and I understand that not all Russians (and not all Russian polo player) support Putin’s politic, but the tension is still too high. On the other hand, we’re now excited to move our asses toward the West!”

It’s was great hearing such a positive attitude coming from someone so close to an unfortunate situation. Despite the Ukrainian/Russian conflict, Dmytro Zhukovsky has high hopes for the future of Ukrainian bike polo. The country we be host to two tournaments in the next couple months (the first in Lviv on June 28th – 29th and the second in Kyiv on July 26th), and Dmytro encourages everyone to come see how Urkainian bike polo has grown since there DFL finish at the 2013 EHBPC.

“We’re trying to involve as many participants from foreign countries as possible, but we’re not going to get any profit from our war with Russia. It’s real shit. …I hope that some people who remember us from the last Euro will visit Kyiv this July. …We’ve already booked a good place for a court and another one for the after party. We’ll try to do our best with the tournament. Also, Kyiv is an interesting city simply to see!”

I encourage as many European clubs as possible to attend these tournaments! We should show our polo brothers and sisters that they matter to us, and that politics-be-damned, we will support them and their tournaments. We should show them how much they will be missed at Euros and Worlds this year.

lviv bike polo   kyiv bike polo

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Interview, Tournaments

A Conversation with NAH’s John Hayes

January 22, 2014

I’ve been trying to set up an interview with John Hayes since the day the NAH announced that he was taking over for Chandel as Tournament Director. With Christmas, New Years and work conflicts, it took us over a month to finally sit down and talk, and in the end I’m thankful that the stars finally aligned for us.

To prepare for our Facebook Messenger interview I got comfortable on my couch and turned on An Idiot Abroad on Netflix so that I could get in the right frame of mind for an interview with an Englishman. I believe John had the same idea, as he wanted to wait until the American Football match between the Seahawks and 49ers had ended. This is what came from it…

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321Polo: Even though you’ve been here for a few months now, welcome to North America John and most importantly, Welcome to the NAH!
John Hayes: Thank you!

321Polo: For those that may not know who you are and are thinking “why should this guy organize tournaments for the NAH?” can you tell us about the work you did for bike polo in England and Europe?
John Hayes: Ok, sure…
So, I’ve been playing bike polo since 2009, I started around the time of the first Euros in London. London was at the forefront of taking polo to a more organized level, there was already the LHBPA in existence, when I started. Apart from playing, I quickly got into attending LHBPA meetings, and from 2011, organizing local tournaments in London. I then moved on to organize national qualifiers, and helped out at big international tournaments in 2011. In 2012, I scheduled the worlds in Geneva, and the London Open, the biggest 2 tournaments in Europe that year, and the same for Euros 2013, London Open 2013, and Worlds 2013. So moving to North America, I come with a long experience of organizing tournaments. That’s why when Chandel wanted to step down from her role, she had a chance to work directly with me, and being local, it was an easy handover.

I understand many North Americans won’t know me  if they’ve not been to the Worlds or haven’t been at a tournament that I’ve organized or scheduled, but I’m hoping they won’t just think “who’s that guy from Europe” and will extend the trust Ben and Chandel have shown in me in this role. I attended a lot of tournaments in NA last year, NAs, Eastside qualifiers and a few regional tournaments (Puerto Rico, Midwest Open), so I have an understanding of the NA scene, and the unique features it has.

Oh, and another thing to mention, I come from a maths/computer science background, so I have a good understanding of the concepts and software involved in formatting. Add that to the fact I’m a massive sports nerd, so I get what works for other sports.

321Polo: Did you approach Ben Schultz and let him know that you were interested in taking over for Chandel? Was it something that came about just knowing Chandel? How did you and the NAH higher ups get connected for you to take over?
John Hayes:  I didn’t directly approach anyone about the role, ultimately it was Chandel who suggested it, and then Ben confirmed it. I’d offered my help to the NAH, if they needed it, great, but they’d also done fine without me, so if not, it would have been ok. Obviously it helped that I had meet both of them many times before.

321Polo: Knowing that you moved to Toronto from the UK for a job, I assume that you have a pretty serious full-time job. So, looking at how much time Nick Kruse puts into the rules and how much Joe Rstom puts into the Ref Organization, do you have any worries about giving your full attention to your NAH duties?
John Hayes: Yes, for sure, it’s a factor. As you say I have a full-time job, which takes up a lot of my time, but this is something I’m really motivated for, and I try to fit it in when I can. I think if it’s well planned, it doesn’t take too much work. The winter is taken up with planning, and if that’s done well, the summer should be pretty easy. We’ve already done most of the planning for this year, the main outstanding issues are finalizing the last few qualifiers, registration, and then making sure the qualifiers go smoothly.

321Polo: For people who may not be sure what the Tournament Director for the NAH does, can you describe your duties for us?
John Hayes: So the main focus is the NAH tour, that’s the qualifiers and the NAHBPC. Apart from that there is some crossover into rules, where they are related to elements of tournament format and then general structure; for example, Joe Rstom and I did a lot of work at the end of last year to restructure the regions. We were also working on new ideas and tournaments for this year, and future years.
321Polo: What else have you and Joe Rstom been working on?
John Hayes: One thing we really want to improve in tournaments this season is making sure the schedule isn’t rushed. A few things at the Worlds were frankly embarrassing, and down to bad planning, or being too ambitious, so the last few weeks I’ve been running the numbers on lots of different formats, looking at what number of teams, and formats work in which scenarios. I’ve just finished writing that up, and that will shortly be released as part of an Appendix to the rules. It will apply to NAH tournaments, but hopefully be a good guide to anyone who wants to run tournaments. We want to make the best use of all our qualifiers, but we recognize each region has different setups and challenges, so we want to make sure the qualification system is as consistent as possible, and all eventualities are covered.

Also, Joe and I have been looking at alternate formats as Swiss and Double Elim are flawed in various ways (though they are the best we have right now). For Swiss, there really is no better alternative as long we stick to the same number of teams, but we are looking at alternate elimination formats. One we have been working on is a best-of format, similar to the playoffs in the NHL/NBA.
321Polo: Can you explain this a little more for us?
John Hayes: It allows us to keep game times constant across the whole tournament, but instead in the elimination you have to win 2 games (or 3 in the later stages) to progress. Now, I’m not sure when you will see this format, at the moment it’s still in the planning stages. We hope it will be a good balance between making sure everyone has a good chance to go through, and not get knocked out due to freak results, but also that we aren’t playing a lot of games that don’t really achieve very much towards the final results.
321Polo: Would this system see fewer teams going on to the final day?
John Hayes: No not really, the timing is roughly the same as for Double Elim. I should mention that we will, as a whole, be slightly reducing the number of teams in the Elim, based on the feedback from last year. We had too many Sundays finishing too late.

321Polo: Along the lines of big changes in NAH tournaments, I know, from personal conversations, that you are a proponent of the NAH switching from regional qualifiers to a points based system. Can you lay out the John Hayes 100% ideal NAH tournament season? Not to say this will happen in the NAH, I’m just curious of your thoughts.
John Hayes: One of the ideas we have been bouncing around is a ranking system, which amongst other things would be used to decide teams for North Americans, rather than basing it purely on regional qualifiers. Players would earn points over a 12 month period, with the main tournaments, and regionals (equivalent of qualifiers) earning the most points, and other tournaments earning less. Now, in such a system, we would have to be careful not to reward travel above quality, so our idea was 3 majors (West Coast, East Coast and central), along with maybe 10 regionals, spread around the continent. Finishing high in any of those tournaments would effectively guarantee a spot, and the rest would get filled up from overall results. This is not to undermine the new system we’ve just put into place, which will be around for a while, even if idea becomes reality.
321Polo: What do you mean by that?
John Hayes: Well, I wouldn’t want people to think we don’t believe in our own work on the new regions. We think it is a big improvement on the old system and it may be such a success that we don’t even need to make any changes.

That’s not to say a points/ranking system couldn’t be used for other things. We are working on an exciting new tournament, which we hope to announce in the next few months. All I’m going to say now that if it happens, everyone will be playing this summer for their clubs, as well as their own team.
321Polo: I know you are new to the NAH, but I assume you still used to follow the North American Championship online, on top of playing in them this past season, so do you feel that there are teams in attendance that shouldn’t be there, or maybe there are teams that should be there that aren’t? It seems to me, that in the current regional system, that the tops teams are still there and the teams qualifying for Worlds are doing so justly.
John Hayes: I wouldn’t say there are teams in attendance that shouldn’t be there, but it’s also fair to say many of them aren’t realistically competing for the top spots. As long as we make sure every competitive team in NA has the best chance to attend, then I’ll be happy. Now I’ve not suggesting there is a new Beavers Boys hidden somewhere in Manitoba right now, but maybe in a few years there will be, and making sure they have the same chance to attend, as teams in the big scenes, is important.

321Polo: Switching it up a bit, were you surprised by the lack of backlash against your new region set up, or was there any behind the scene backlash? I’m only talking from the point of view of someone watching League of Bike Polo.
John Hayes: I was actually really pleasantly surprised by the lack of backlash; the vast majority of people were very positive about it, especially in the areas affected. I think most people appreciated we made the changes we did to help the majority of players in North America. Sure, some regions lost a spot they would have had under the current system, but instead, plenty of areas, who had little motivation to get involved in the qualification process will now be able to go, and hopefully build up those scenes. I’m personally very happy with the fact that Mexico is now officially part of the NAH; it should help provide more competitive teams to the NAH, based on their World’s performance. I’m also hoping it will provide more crossover between the US and Mexico, in terms of attending tournaments.
321Polo: I was very excited to see Mexico added back into the NAH, and I think giving them their own region was a great idea. How is the communication with that region? Are they active in setting up representatives?
John Hayes: Our main contact there is Ignacio Pelayo, who came recommended by many other players. He is the rep for Mexico, and very easy to work with; he’s already been working with all the clubs, and between them they have scheduled their qualifier in Guadalajara. He can be reached at mexico@nahardcourt.com.
321Polo: That’s great! How about the other new regions, do they seem to be coming together as easily?
John Hayes: Well, UMW (Great Lakes), and LMW (Heartland?) has been very easy, as we are still working with the same people. For Prairie/Great Plains, it’s been a bit harder, as they didn’t have the infrastructure, and shared communication in place (especially north and south of the border), but we have a new rep there, Dave Meaghan, and Saskatoon locked in for the qualifier.

321Polo: John this has been so amazing and insightful, I can’t thank you enough for sitting down with me tonight. In parting, are there any final words that you’d like to share with the Poloverse?
John Hayes: I guess I just hope that everyone has a fun and competitive season, and if they have any questions, comments or (constructive) criticism, to contact me on tournaments@nahardcourt.com.

Oh, by the way, we have 8 of the 10 qualifiers locked in, so expect announcements on that in the next few weeks, once the other 2 are sorted.

Editorial, Interview, Player Profile

Meet Your World’s Refs: Joe Rstom

November 18, 2013

The fourth and final ref that we would like to introduce you to is actually the head of the NAH Reffing Committee. After seeing him handle reffing duties at North Americans and then Worlds, anyone can clearly see why he is the prefect candidate for this position. He is a simple man with a lot of heart dedicated to the growth of hardcourt bike polo. In the countless personal conversations that I’ve had with him, I know he has a game plan to better the state of reffing for the 2014 season. Not only that, he has the drive to actually put the game plan into action so that hardcourt reffing, and the sport as a whole, can take two giant leaps forward! Everyone, I proudly introduce to you Joe Rstom.

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321Polo: What is your home club?
Rstom: Mankato, MN

321Polo: How long have you been playing bike polo?

Rstom: 4 years

321Polo: When was the first time you reffed at a tournament?
Rstom: I refereed a bit at the Midwest Open 3, but the Battle for the Midwest was the first tournament I felt confident refereeing. Then Midwest Champeenships, North Americans and now Worlds.

321Polo: What do you think of fans heckling you?
Rstom: The fan heckling never really bothers me, and overall it was much better at Worlds than any other tournament. The spectators that bothered me would come up and tap me on the shoulder in the middle of a game and say “Hey, hey, hey, hey ref, hey, you need to watch for that steering arm and mallet hack and toppling over in the corner”. You can imagine my responses…

Anyway, I’d like to note that the respect coming from the players was noticeably improved. When I saw a new team I would introduce myself and set the expectation for respectful dialogue. I think this combined with confident whistling dictated the overall dynamic of the game; from the way players treated me to the way they treated one another. There were exceptions to this, but I saw a lot less bickering amongst players and referees than in the past. That is something to be proud of as a community.

321Polo: Are there any major changes you hope to see in the reffing world next year?
Rstom:  There are 3 major changes I’d like to see for tournaments next year:

1. An organized Referee Association and Certified Referees – Online certification is going to be my big project over this off-season. The system was built this year to simply get people ready for a fully developed certification test. There will be videos, there will be graded testing. We will see how this goes, but the idea is that if you are hosting an NAH tournament, you will be required to have a certain number of certified referees. This leads me to my next desired change:

2. Incentivized Volunteering – Referees simply need to be paid for standing in the sun (or rain) and maintaining this level of focus for hours on end. Even with scheduled and assigned goal judges, they still disappeared without notice, which means the other volunteers need some incentive too. Tournament Organizers should start budgeting for this, because you will see an immediate return on the investment. (On a side note, I think cash prizes should become the norm too, but that’s a different issue).

3. A Scalable, Multiple Referee System – The first 2 days of these large tournaments should have 2 referees on each court, all day long. It can be done with 6 people if the two take turns with the whistle. The 1st referee watches on-ball play, or the most important off-ball play, and the 2nd referee tracks peripheral off-ball play. As you cut out courts, you add referees. A 3-4 referee system, mirrored on the other side, or goal judges who can actually signal for infractions would be the way to go. Also, we shouldn’t have to sit on fences and stand on boards, but being on the court is something I have yet to experiment with. Maybe in 2014!

Editorial, Interview, Player Profile

Meet your World’s Refs: Robin Cunningham

November 11, 2013

The third installment of our “Meet Your World’s Refs” series introduces you to a player from one of NAH’s most forgotten regions. Hailing from the Southwest, Robin Cunningham is the unsung hero of World’s Refs. As one of only three refs to sign the volunteer sheet put out before Worlds began, Cunningham showed his commitment and talent all the way through the tournament to the final game. Find out a little more about him here!

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321Polo: What is your home club?
Cunningham: Home Club = Albuquerque Bike Polo

321Polo: How long have you been playing bike polo?

Cunningham: I’ve been playing for 4 years.

321Polo: When was the first time you reffed at a tournament?
Cunningham: I first reffed at our own tournament in Santa Fe, NM in April 2010.

321Polo: What do you think of fans heckling you?
Cunningham: I don’t mind the fans heckling me, it can be a bit distracting though. I started reffing soccer when I was very young, so I was used to a minimum of 22 parents yelling at you at the same time. No one is ever happy all of the time.

321Polo: Are there any major changes you hope to see in the reffing world next year?
Cunningham: The major changes I would like to see would be an acceptance of world rules, not just NAH. The NAH/world rules translated into 5 or 8 major languages so everyone can read them. And lastly, hand signals for the 10 major fouls. It can be very hard to tell the players (and fans) what the foul call is when everyone is yelling at the same time. We could adopt a football/hockey style hand signals that would be international. Then there would be no discrepancy with what the actual call was. With the addition of the hand signals would be pointing in the direction of play after a foul. That way the teams can have an idea of which side has possession of the ball. Lastly, if we want to have good refs, then pay them (or honor their efforts with proper respect). When refs are getting paid they will take it more seriously. My final thought is: “You can hate me on the court, but love me off the court.”

Editorial, Interview, Player Profile

Meet your World’s Refs: Zach Blackburn

November 4, 2013

The second ref we want to introduce you to is Zach Blackburn. A long time veteran to the sport, I’m sure many of you know him, but as the ref for the 2012 and 2013 World Championship finals, we feel you should get to know ref Zach.

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321Polo: What is your home club?
Blackburn: NYC, home of the first worlds champions (2008, Toronto)

321Polo: How long have you been playing bike polo?

Blackburn: Since 2005, back when it was a drinking game and we just circled out for a dab

321Polo: When was the first time you reffed at a tournament?
Blackburn: I think the World Champs in Geneva (2012) was the first time I actually signed up for the job. I vaguely remember holding a whistle before then, I don’t remember where.

321Polo: What do you think of fans heckling you?
Blackburn: It must mean I’m making too much of an impression on the game. The match and the fans should be focused on the players, it shouldn’t be about what the ref is doing. That said, any true fan isn’t going to like a call against the team they’re rooting for, no matter how deserved.

321Polo: Are there any major changes you hope to see in the reffing world next year?
Blackburn: I can think of a few. In fact, I can think of a couple hundred. I wish NAH would let me rewrite the rule set to make it a bit more readable, and also to close up a couple glaring omissions: like being able to check someone that’s trying to get out of play. Unless they’re in the way they shouldn’t be able to get blasted while heading to tap in because if they protect themselves in any way they’re effecting the game, and thus, get penalized. Also the goalie shouldn’t be fair game for getting checked into the net, they’re in a vulnerable position while standing there and should deserve more respect than being an easy target for elbows and shoulders. The rule against throwing your mallet should include strategically dropping it. The requirements for possession of the ball should be more specific. With the way it was interpreted in Minneapolis this year it was possible to score while having a delayed penalty against you because refs weren’t blowing the whistle until the offending team was controlling the ball for a couple seconds. I was just dreading the moment that someone one-timed it in the net and the shit show that would follow. The high sticking penalty also got out of hand at NA’s. Luckily we didn’t have a rash of sticks-to-the-face at Worlds, but all we needed to do was just take out “attempts” from the stupid rule that says you can’t “attempt to contact the ball above the shoulders etc etc”. It would have been so simple to just say, if you hit the ball over your shoulders you’ll get it turned over. If you hit an opponent with your mallet up, you’re going to get the book thrown at you. Kev got hit twice in the same game by a stray mallet! He had to deal with a minor face injury for the whole tournament, so the offending team should have at least had someone in the box for 2 min or until Kev’s team scored. If that had happened after the first incident, I highly doubt he would’ve been caught a second time up high. Make a big enough deterrent, and people will be a lot more careful about where they’re swinging.