José Angel is a Spaniard who has set his heart on introducing orienteering to every possible land in South America. And with such success! Read on…
By Joaquim Margarido
“I found this wonderful sport 30 years ago, running my first race in February 1984. Map scale 1:25,000, wooden flags bearing the punching system that was like a postmark, ink spots everywhere at the finish; running in the classic garb of a former football player – shorts and shirt – and normal shoes. I never looked at that punching system as a rudimentary one, quite otherwise – I saw it as the latest technology in a new sport called orienteering. And it was, indeed, something completely new for me. From there on, everything I met for the first time was a new bit of fun, and I enjoyed it all as a really nice novelty in what was itself a very young sport.
Common to many of those who took their first steps in orienteering in those crazy years 1980s, José Angel Nieto Poblete fell in love with orienteering at first sight. To introduce and promote orienteering became a true ideal in his life, and he has now carried its flag and spread its fragrance in many countries where this had been a virtually unknown sport. We join him on his journey that links his native Spain to a wide range of countries in Latin America, where he has been a tireless worker in presenting and expanding our sport.
A dreamer at heart
Born 52 years in Ciudad Real in Spain, José Angel Nieto Poblete has always been a dreamer. At the age of 7 he dreamt of being a football player. For Real Madrid, of course. Later, at the age of 16, his feet on the ground, he left football behind to join the Military Academy, where he made his career. Ciudad Real , a place he loves and where he still works, awarded him in 2007 the title of Pandorgo, the “city’s representative”.
He embraced orienteering as a “man of causes” – with enthusiasm and imagination. While he gathered information and learnt more about the sport, his desire grew to introduce it in his city, in his province, in his region. In due course he became a member of the group of dreamers who worked to make orienteering in Spain an unshakeable reality. Since then, organization and competition have been for José two faces of a single coin. Based on strong early foundations, the project of founding the Spanish Orienteering Federation (FEDO) was carried forward with unhindered purpose and with pride. José himself played an integral part, occupying from the very beginning positions of responsibility including the development of FEDO’s Competitions section, and he was a member too of FEDO’s Technical Commission.
Two platforms for the South American dream
José Angel participated along with another prominent name in Spanish orienteering, José Samper, in the 3rd edition of the Latin Countries Cup in France in 1997. This first contact with the event would prove to be decisive in the future, because he found within it one of the platforms for his current projects. Present at the races every year except in 2004, José Angel was elected Secretary General of the Latin Countries Cup in 2005 with the support of all countries; he still occupies the role.
Parallel to this, in 2010, FEDO’s President Victor Garcia offered him the post of Vice President of FEDO, with responsibility for international relations. He accepted the post, and this became the second platform from which he started to develop a large number of projects, not only in Latin America but also in other countries around the world. Solid roots were established – and José Angel could anticipate a lot of hard work.
Latin Cup to Brazil and Uruguay
José Angel brought expansionist ideas to his role as Secretary General of the Latin Countries Cup competition, with the major objective of having a more open competition with more countries taking part. The Latin Countries Cup is an international event in which, according to its rules, all countries of Latin origin may participate. However only Brazil and a few other sporadic representatives from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean had participated in a competition that had always been organized in Europe. Within the new design, José Angel wanted to involve the Latin American countries properly, and this meant organizing competitions on the other side of the Atlantic.
Thus in Belgium in 2006 he got Brazil’s agreement to host the 15th edition of the Latin Countries Cup, to be organized in Santa Cruz do Sul. The event was held in 2009, organized by José Otavio Dornelles, President of the Brazilian Orienteering Confederation. The results were positive and the future was clear: it was time to give prominence to the Latin American countries.
At the end of this event José Angel asked Victor Pérez, Vice-President of the Uruguayan Orienteering Federation at the time, to take responsibility to ensuring that the Cup would return to South America. The challenge was accepted and Uruguay participated in the following editions of the Latin Countries Cup in order to gain experience and knowledge. And Uruguay has been the proud host of the Latin Countrie’s Cup’s 20th edition, held this November in Punta del Este and Piriápolis. This event in Uruguay is a landmark in a new era, in which the event is committed to alternating between the two Continents. José Angel’s crusade has borne fruit!
Completing the South America map
It’s impossible to establish a standard method for José Angel Nieto Poblete’s approach to each country he has visited. Every one of them has its idiosyncrasies, different ways of seeing the sport, peculiarities. Orienteering has come to each of them in several different ways: through schools, by individuals, through a military route, the University, the institutions…
From the sustained work in Uruguay to the reunification of a divided Argentina, from the hope called Costa Rica to the certainty of orienteering in Chile, from Ecuador’s revitalization to the seed-sowing in Cuba. Thousands and thousands of kilometres have been travelled, hundreds of courses and competitions held, and dozens of maps drawn. Seeds are also sown in Paraguay, Bolivia, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Haiti, and José Angel has a dream, one that stills awaits its full achievement: to plan an o-flag in some place in every country in Latin America.
Contacts with other nations are being maintained, and José Angel’s next steps seem likely to take him to Venezuela and Colombia. But Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama are a real challenge. And it is in Peru that it is intended to complete the South American map, but here the difficulties seem to be bigger, and even the support of the Spanish Olympic Committee itself have not managed to open any doors, not even a little bit.
Sometimes tears, sometimes smiles
The difficulties of this job are many. Having everything programmed and then suddenly being forced to fall back on his experience as a teacher, as a sportsman or as an organizer is something which José Angel Nieto Poblete has been used to for a long time. The opportunities can arise when he least expects them, and they cannot be wasted. In the space of a single hour, there could be a contact in a college, an interview with a Minister, a press conference and a lecture to a large audience. In the meanwhile – the most delicate part – it’s vital to determine the best time to seek financing for projects, since “impossible missions” don’t exist for José Angel.
The José Angel Nieto Poblete project has in many ways only just begun, but the “first volume” of his stories ends. It is fair, therefore, to give him the word at this point: “I really can’t say that one country is more suited to orienteering than another, or that one country likes orienteering more than the other. No! The level of interest for this sport is the same everywhere, it is huge. The big problem lies in the means to develop it, the real possibilities of doing it, time, space… life!”
“Above all, I pursue my goals with the memory of my first day, that day in February 1984 when I did my first orienteering course, when I fell in love with this amazing sport. Perhaps I may now have a different perspective, but I remain faithful to my roots and I always remember, as an example, after many, many Clinics, a phrase from one of my students in Haiti: ‘Teacher, don’t leave us alone.’ “
[Photo: Jose Angel Nieto Poblete. See the original article at http://www.orienteering.org/edocker/orienteering-world/2014/. Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]