Saturday, November 22, 2014

Orienteering in Costa Rica: A compass in paradise

In North South East West we travel this time to Costa Rica, meeting the two Orienteering Associations currently existing in the country. While we wait for the foundation of a National Federation, we can see that important steps are being taken with a view to wider promotion and practice of the sport.

By Joaquim Margarido

“An occasion where young and less young, of any genre, regardless of their physical skills, practice the same sport at the same time.” This was the perception of Edwin Coto Vega, Coordinator of the Physical Education course in the Atlantic Pole of the University of Costa Rica at Turrialba, about what is called “the sport of the forest.” 8,500 km away from his home in Spain, eyes wide open and the excitement in his face, Edwin Vega had the opportunity to experience ‘real’ Orienteering. What had been conceived only in theory was now revealed in all its splendour, and soon a million ideas swarmed through his brain, so that the big dream of firmly implementing the sport in Costa Rica became just a step away from being materialised.

Edwin Vega wouldn’t have been the only one to cherish this dream. With him - and even before him - others had weighed the pros and cons, realising that this was a challenge that was anything but easy. Mainly because there isn’t in orienteering the ‘immediacy’ that other sports have; it’s a sport that lives from that vital tool the o-map, requires appropriate terrain for its practice, and can involve complex and demanding learning. Moreover, as in most Latin American countries, here too it is football that makes people crazy, and other sports live under this as weaklings, having little support or none at all.

But perhaps the reality of Costa Rica could play in his favour. The country has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America. The commitment to protect the environment – Costa Rica ranks 5th worldwide in environmental performance – has since the 1970s been a true ‘national cause’, and the ‘Ticos’ are essentially happy (the most recent report from the New Economics Foundation even puts Costa Rica in the lead in the ranking of the happiest countries in the world). It was time to get going!

The pedagogic value of Orienteering

Edwin Coto Vega deserves a prominent place in the history of Orienteering in Costa Rica for several reasons. To mention just one, it was through him that in 2007 the Atlantic Pole of the University of Costa Rica welcomed a Spanish coach who taught an introductory course on the sport. Some attempts to implement the sport in the country had been already made – we can find records of an event in 2003, and regular cooperation between the Spanish club ORCA and the University of Costa Rica from 2005 – but this course in 2007 turned out to be a landmark of a kind. Among those present was Yeimi Jiménez Oviedo, now 36 years old, teaching at the University of Costa Rica and sportive and recreational promoter of that institution. She was destined to be a key player in a growing process, as we shall see below.

We can’t say that Orienteering took root in Costa Rica from the very first moment. The great and decisive leap was to occur only in 2011, following the introduction of new courses in the Sciences of Human Movement. Offered only in Turrialba, due to excellent natural conditions in the suburbs, the Faculty of Natural Environment includes Orienteering on its curriculum. This was because of its pedagogic value, based on the versatility of the sport in its relationship with nature and its adaptability for all ages in an integrated way. So Yeimi Oviedo returned to Orienteering as the core subject of her attention, and through this she came into contact with the Spanish Orienteering Federation. This is where José Angel Nieto Poblete, the Spanish Orienteering Federation’s Vice President and responsible for international cooperation, came into the picture.

Sport for all

The first visit of José Angel Nieto Poblete to Costa Rica, in June 2011, confirmed for Yeimi Oviedo that here is a sport that can provide competition at high level simultaneously with recreational practice. Above all, it puts people in the same space to practice the same sport, regardless of gender, age or physical condition. This confirmation was reinforced when, in September of that year, Yeimi visited Petrer (Spain) for the Latin Countries Cup along with Francisco Solano, another teacher at the University of Costa Rica. “It was wonderful to see the children out in the terrain with their parents, and find people who had their first contact with the sport there alongside elite athletes”, recalls Yeimi.

By this time, Ramiro Agustin Ojeda had moved to Costa Rica, on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. It was his passion for nature, and in particular photography, that made him leave his native Argentina. But a lecture about Orienteering given by José Angel Nieto Poblete at EARTH University awoke a strong curiosity in him. Frequent hunting expeditions meant he was familiar with using a compass, but Orienteering was much more than that, it was a sport appealing to the intellect. Ramiro Ojeda recalls that he was impressed by the high participation levels in many parts of Europe, and how Orienteering provides physical activity for many people, in the outdoors and with respect for nature. And he adds: “We can talk about football, but media attention is restricted to the big stars, millionaire contracts and Federations that act as true multi-nationals. But with Orienteering, I don’t think there is another sport in the world that enables participation for all, regardless of age or physical condition.”

Two Associations, same purpose

There are two properly structured Associations currently existing in Costa Rica, both independent of the military (an unusual situation in Latin American Orienteering) and closely linked to educational institutions. With headquarters in Turrialba, the Asociación Deportiva Orientación of Turrialba has as President Yeimi Jiménez Oviedo, while Ramiro Agustin Ojeda is the President of the Asociación Deportiva Caribeña of Orientación with its headquarters at EARTH University, at Guácimo. With much the same vision and a similar, complementary contribution to development, and although independent of each other, both Associations have achieved noteworthy work. In 2012 the University of Costa Rica and CATIE - Tropical Agronomic Centre of Research and Education, at Turrialba - staged the first National Orienteering Championships, organised by the Association Turrialbeña, and the second Championships in 2013 were organised there too. In the current year, the third National Orienteering Championships have been successfully organised by the Association Caribeña, with a participation that exceeded 100 athletes spread over eleven classes.

Spreading the word

Even a minimally qualified Orienteering cartographer would not find it very difficult to draw a map of the region of Turrialba, as the deep green colour occupies the majority of the space. The vegetation is very abundant and the very dense rain forest houses several species of snakes, some poisonous, which represents an extra factor in planning a forest competition. Despite all the constraints, Yeimi Oviedo and her fellows from the Association Turrialbeña are determined to take forward this project, based in the course of Sciences of Human Movement and for the promotion of the sport. “The main objective for the moment is spreading the word, so that more people know about Orienteering and become interested in its practice”, she says.

Ramiro Ojeda’s vision is coincidental, noting that “currently, our task is to get more people aware of our activities, and make it not a rare thing to see a flag behind a tree or someone running with a map and a compass”. And he goes further: “The reality is that this is an imported and alien sport. The influence of football in Costa Rica is very strong, monopolising the media, the prizes and government and private investment. Maybe in 2015, when the fourth National Championships take place at the State Pole of the University of Costa Rica in San José, we can get some attention from the media and thus get more people keen to find out about Orienteering.”

National Federation on the horizon

For next year, the two Associations are preparing to organise more Orienteering races and are drafting a joint Calendar of events. With the invaluable support of the Spanish Orienteering Federation through José Angel Nieto Poblete, new courses and activities at TEC - Tecnologico of Costa Rica at Cartago – are planned, and in the capital San José these include the National Orienteering Championships, with Gerardo Corrales as General Director. The interest shown in the sport is such that Jose Angel Nieto Poblete has plans of holding an Event Advisers Clinic and a TrailO demonstration. At the Atlantic Pole of the University of Costa Rica people are already working with OCAD, and it is planned that a Mapping Clinic will be held there.

The work on the establishment of a future Orienteering Federation of Costa Rica has already started, about which Jose Angel Nieto Poblete was advised by Alba Quesada Rodriguéz, National Director of ICODER - Costa Rica Institute of Sport and Recreation, and by the Minister of Sports, Carolina Mauri Carabaguías. Looking to the future, Ramiro Ojeda says “so that we can unify criteria in the Associations, we’ll advance towards the creation of a Federation to ensure institutional support”. Yeimi Oviedo goes a step further in adding that “once consolidated, the National Federation we will make the necessary contacts in order to ensure our integration within the International Orienteering Federation.”

[Photo: Jose Angel Nieto Poblete]

[See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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