World Championships in Benin – statement by the PE Board
At its meeting held on 25th April 2023, the PE Board considered the latest written communication received from our World Federation (FIPJP) regarding the World Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles Championships (8th to 13th September 2023) and the World Men’s Triples Championships (13th to 18th September 2023).
This communication supplemented information which had also been provided at the online FIPJP Congress held on 2nd April 2023 where PE was represented.
The arrangements have been further clarified for these back-to-back tournaments. They will now take place in the open air on a paved square that will have pitches laid down on it rather than in a purpose-built boulodrome as originally promised by the hosts.
The invitation for English delegations to participate offers hotel accommodation and meals free of charge for two female players at the Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles and for all four male players at the Triples. This would leave PE having to meet the travel costs of all players and coaches plus the accommodation and meals that are not covered.
We indicated in our International Representation 2023-24 document (issued on 3rd February 2023 and available here) that once we had more information we would assess our participation in Benin.
In assessing our participation at these Championships, we considered the following:
The practicalities of attending back to back championships – this will be the first time that consecutive tournaments have featured and in particular for two of our male players and coach this could involve being away in Benin for 10 days. The situation is compounded by the long-established scheduling of the European Men’s Triples Championship immediately after this in Albertville, France (17th to 19th of September). Our players and coaches are amateurs and need to take holidays from work in most instances. The burden here will be very significant along with the required player financial contributions (£250 per tournament). It could be possible for our male teams to be different for the World and European representation but our representation system is designed to find the best and most competitive teams/players not to simply find English representation;
Financial implications and logistics – Benin is not served well by international travel routes for us in England and our assessment of the travel options reveals that the only viable way to get to Benin is by non-direct flights at less than ideal times in terms of preparation/acclimatisation which are in the range of £750 to £800 each. This cost profile makes it very difficult for us to consider sending different male players for the Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles and then the Triples. It necessitates two male players and the coach remaining in situ for both championships. Even if this least cost approach were to be adopted, our best estimate of attendance in Benin for our male and female players and coaches (two are required for the Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles) will be in the order of £8,400. Whilst this cost would be offset by players’ contributions of £2,000, this implies the two male players required to stay in Benin for 10 days contributing £500 each. In health terms, we have been informed that no vaccinations are required, but we can see that general medical advice for travel to Benin is that a number of vaccinations are required as well as taking anti-malarial medication given the high risk of that mosquito-borne disease in the whole of Benin (increased by the open air nature of the play). Required visas at around 50 Euros per person add a further cost;
Playing conditions – the FIPJP is waiving its Article 6 of the Rules for World Championships which states: “In order that the weather does not force an interruption in the running of a world championship, the organising committees must provide covered lanes”. There will be a tent provided for downtime for delegations, but apart from the possibility of a parasol at the end of each lane, play will be open to the elements. Average weather conditions in Benin at this time of year suggest average daytime temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius and monthly rainfall of 112 mm. Our last experience of playing in the open air was the Women’s World Triples Championship in China (2017) where heavy rain severely impacted play at a point when our team was playing an important match to qualify for the Quarter Finals;
Security considerations – since late 2021, Benin has been the target of multiple attacks by armed groups. Several Islamist militant groups have found refuge in the Beninese forests bordering neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. Although it is true that the terrorism problem (Islamic State in the Sahel Province, ISSP) is pretty much confined to the north of the country (where our Foreign Office says UK nationals should not visit) and spill over effects of terrorist activities in Benin are still limited, an increase in their scope of attacks toward Benin’s heavily populated south is expected by observers of the country. The safety and well-being of our players and officials is paramount. The problem for us is one of assessing the level of risk. The FIPJP seeks to reassure us on this point by saying that the venue is near to the Presidential Palace and an unspecified (understandable that it is not specified) ‘security system’ will be in place. Security issues, although relevant to our assessment are not the determining factor in our decision not to attend.
Our overall conclusion is that it is neither practical or cost-effective to send English representation to Benin in 2023 and regardless of playing conditions and limited travel options, the decision to run back-to-back championships and the close relationship with the following European Men’s Triples Championship is not only unprecedented but likely to be very difficult to achieve for many of the FIPJP’s smaller federations like PE.
We regret very much that we will not be participating as it is important for us that our talented players and coaches are given the best international playing opportunities. We also recognise and support the principle of holding major championships in all parts of the world, but this does require that playing conditions, costs, security, health, diarisation of other international tournaments and other logistics are carefully assessed in the round. After careful consideration in the round, unfortunately these do not work for us in Benin.
Our approach for our senior players now will be to focus on the Men’s European Triples Championship in Albertville and the Women’s World Triples Championship in Bangkok, Thailand (23rd to 26th November). Our preparation for these will include at least one funded international playing opportunity in Europe for both genders once we have concluded the SSE process and can discuss options and availability of players and coaches.
The 2023 SSE format encompassing Singles, Doubles and Triples remains entirely valid and appropriate despite our non-participation in the World Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles in Benin. As set out in our issued international representation document, we will use the 2023 SSE process to find representation for the European Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles now confirmed for Martigny, Switzerland (June 19th to 23rd 2024).