The Carp World Championship Portugal 2013... THE TRUTH - Ali Hamidi

It was lucky that I visited Portugal for this year’s event, as I wouldn’t have been able to believe just how ridiculous and farcical it turned out to be. After the bait debacle of Romania 2012, it was an extremely bitter pill to swallow.
However, as a sponsor, and someone reporting from the event, I don’t want it to sound like English sour grapes, as it isn’t. I want to give you the meat and bones, in detail, but being a major sponsor, we want the event to grow, not become a global joke!

When Korda began sponsoring the England Carp Team in 2012, it coincided with the beginning of a new reign in the management too. Dick Clegg chose Ian Huntington as team manager and Pete Holehouse as team coach due to their extensive history on the international carp-match scene and their fantastic carp-match pedigree in the UK carp match circuit. Contrary to what some conspiracy theorists wanted to suggest in the angling media, Danny and I don’t pick the England Team, Korda’s involvement was to solely give the team financial support for logistics and travel, and to give this genre of carp fishing a great media platform on TV, using our work in this area. No other company in fishing could offer The Angling Trust such rounded support.
As a part of the new regime, England conducted carp trials to pick the first team for the championships in Romania 2012, and for the future. This process was initiated to build a new structure that will help inspire youngsters to aim at competing for their country in the sport they love. Carp Team England wanted a transition from grass roots, from the standout performers in the Junior Championships, British Championships, UK Carp Championships and maybe some other recognised events. The trials were held on an invite-only basis, with top performers in various categories of the carp-match scene attending the start of this process. Picking an England Team to represent your country isn’t just about angling talent alone. The trial process was conducted with meticulous attention over three elimination style weekends, until a team could be chosen with various aspects being taken into account. It wasn’t just a case of picking those who caught the most, or fished the hardest.

Anglers representing Korda Carp Team England must be good role models, have a strong team ethic, work rate, overall attitude to other people and management, be able to work under team directives and finally, be gifted match carp anglers.
After careful consideration for more than six months, the team was named for Romania 2012 as follows:

Kia Sanger/Jack Stamp
Kev Hewitt/Mark Bartlett
Jake Wildbore/Dan Wildbore
Billy Flowers/Jamie Londors

The immediate backlash from some of those not chosen and media associated with them intimated that Korda had picked the team from their pool of anglers. This quite a comical attack considering Jake Wildbore was the only person sponsored by Korda in their own fishing at the time of that squad being named! This was typical of some of the stupid comments that the management and sponsors had to listen to. They seemed to have NO vision of the bigger picture or facts. It was all just black and white to people, with no substance or proof to back up what they said!

With new management regime’s ‘controversial’ first squad chosen, it was time for a recreational visit to the World Champs venue in Romania to sniff out the competition. Unfortunately, due to the long trial process it meant the team didn’t have time to practice. However, at that stage everyone felt a visit during a pre-event match with many of the competing nations taking part would be enough of an information-gathering mission! Not in our wildest dreams did we expect the 2012 World Champs to unfold as they did. As the competition started and gathered pace, teams were catching either side of the England team, and the home nation was roaring ahead, making it was clear that something wasn’t right. Only then did we find out, some 24 hours into the 2012 World Carp Fishing Championships, that Lac Corbu and its young stock had been conditioned for an extensive period in the build-up to the match at various pre-set distances, with one type of boilie; a type of bait that we didn’t have. The home nation and those who had been lucky enough to get inside info from locals had this bait, therefore the match was contested between them alone. It is fair to say that no rules had been broken by the home nation, they had just very carefully planned the event and insured that glory went to them. Of course, if we’d had the time to have practiced on the venue we would have unearthed this information, but really, you just expect such a huge event to be staged on a level playing field! It wasn’t.

Ironically, the match returns to Romania in 2014. It has already been proposed that every nation uses the same bait by a committee of nations, so this type of thing can’t happen again. It has to be an arena when those that fish the best, and most consistently across three sections actually WIN! With the lessons of Romania behind England, it was time to prepare for Portugal 2013. No stone was to be left unturned. The one major positive to come from Romania was the fantastic harmony, spirit and talent of the young squad that had been assembled. Even through such adversity in Romania, the young lions roared to the very end, fighting even when they knew they had no chance of victory. The management knew this team had all the minerals to become World Champions on a fair stage with good preparation.

Preparation and previous experience would be key going into this year’s event. Ian Huntington and Pete Holehouse had both taken part in the 2006 World Carp Championships at the same venue, and knew that the stock in the huge lake Montargil was of a very small average size. With the minimum weight limit for a carp being 1.5kg, they told me of the nightmares back in 2006 where they tried to wade through carp after carp, even catching 100 carp in one day with not a single fish weighing in! England came 9th that year, and were hoping that the venue had got better since 2006, with those small carp growing over the 1.5kg limit. However, knowing what I do now, I’m flabbergasted that FIPSed, the governing body for this event, would have let an event be held on this venue where barely 99.9% of the carp landed didn’t count? It sounded like a lottery, but surely FIPSed wouldn’t let history repeat itself? Surely they’d done their research this time and ensured there was ample stock of weighable fish to stretch across the three sections of swims and 60 pairs? After all, this event was set up for specimen carp matches, not sardine-sized carp on 3.75lb TC carp rods!

Ian Huntington explained that practice would be solely focused around working out the best methods to get bites and then developing methods to pick out the larger, 1.5kg-plus specimens. It was laughable that we were entering a match with such small fish, but I trusted that FIPSed had done their homework and ensured the match would have an ample amount of these. At least enough for one in three fish being a weigher across all sections. A third wasn’t too much to ask for was it, because you want the podium places to be occupied by those who caught the most, surely?

Our practice trip took place back in August, with the whole squad traveling to fish the venue. A long ferry ride to Santander, followed by a seven-hour drive to Montargil was what they had to do. In the sweltering Portuguese heat, they came back satisfied with what they learnt. England had been able to pick out a number of methods to catch the larger fish, but alarmingly, rarely was anything much bigger than 2kg. Interestingly, this was also in the area where most of the angling takes place, and sees the most bait. The other factor to consider is that the stock had been heavily affected since 2006, as locals eat what they catch, so many of the larger fish would have been taken home for the table! Either way, we all trusted FIPSed to have done their due diligence.

The alarm bells began ringing when Team England visited the venue again in early September, when a practice match was being held on Montargil, with a number of the competing nations taking part. The first plus point for England was that this would be a visit when we looked and didn’t fish. A chance to watch other nations, spy on methods, tactics and take in the action. Once again the match was being held in one area of the lake, which would become part of sections A and B in the actual champs. The match started extremely slowly with the carp action was very slow for the first 24 hours, but picked up towards the end of the event. Current World Champions Romania won the event I believe, but it was clear the fishing would be slow to start with and for fish that rarely weigh over 1.5kg!

On a positive note, England had doubled their preparation in 2013, with practice sessions and lake visits under their belts, it was as good as you could hope for heading to Portugal 2013. We went full of confidence and knowing the lake hadn’t been conditioned on one type of boilie, we were expecting a fair match with maybe the odd non-weighing fish, maybe in worst case one in five could weigh in? Surely that wouldn’t be too much to ask for?

With the draw taking place on the morning of the 25th of September, England were hoping for swims in the middle part of sector A and early swims in sector B, as this sector had been bizarrely divided in to two clear parts. Sector C had rarely been fished so no-one really knew what you wanted here, but probably the closer to B the better. To be fair, as the draw took place we weren’t devastated with our draw, we drew A3 (Mark Bartlett/Kev Hewitt), B17 (Kia Sanger and Jack Stamp) and C11 (Billy Flowers/Jamie Londors). The only downside was that some good nations got very good draws. Either way, we were in it to win it and couldn’t wait to get started.

The first 24 hours of the match was quite slow, but already you could see a pattern of very small fish being landed. I saw fish after fish being returned by different nations that just didn’t climb over the 1.5kg minimum limit! I was beginning to realise just how absurd this was becoming as a spectacle. As a sponsor we had invested tens of thousands in supporting the logistics of the England Team, along with paying for all the media and camera crew, TV programme production and not to mention the time invested in planning for the event. The only positive was how close the match was in the first 24 hours.

As we passed the 48-hour mark, England were catching extremely consistently, more so than other anglers in sections B & C, yet only one carp had weighed in for us from something like 30-odd fish in sector B. After probably the same amount of carp in sector C we had yet to catch a single carp that weighed over 1.5kg in that sector. However, in the whole of sector C only three to four teams had been lucky enough to weigh a fish in. Even though we were catching more than most, we hadn’t shared the same luck size wise. Quite simply this lake didn’t have enough fish over the 1.5kg to benefit the most technical and those that caught the most. It was becoming more a case of those who fished more out of hope than design that would get bonus weighing fish, whilst the efficient English remained frustrated with a procession of pasties under the 1.5kg! Sector A was producing the most fish, as everyone knew it would, but here we had drawn a very shallow swim, and even though we were getting constant action only one fish had weighed in over 48 hours.

As the match progressed, it was clear that the home nation would make local knowledge count, but we still hung on in hope that our luck would change and a procession of weighing carp would reward us for our constant bites in all sections. After all we were using all the same methods, and baits that had managed to single out the larger, 1.6kg specimens in practice (no sarcasm, honestly)! However, Kazakhstan who were next door to Kia Sanger and Jack Stamp in sector B, went from having some 20 odd fish that didn’t weigh to having a procession of weighing carp without changing any methods! It was clear that this venue was more pot luck than skill, not what you want at the biggest carp competition on the global scale and the official World Carp Championships!

With the scoring system being on points, the lack of weighable carp in the whole match meant England were still in with a chance of medals going into the final night. Basically, the match is broken into three sections as explained. There was one pair from each of the 20 competing nations in each sector. The higher you finished in your section, the lower the points you got, so first place gets you one point, second gets you two points, third gets you three points and so on. Basically, the team with the lowest points across three sections wins! Three is a perfect score. However, due to the ‘luck factor’ involved in this match and the lack of weighable fish, this match was fast becoming a lottery, as to where a shoal containing slightly larger carp arrived, rather than a match contested by those who caught the most carp! Now I’m no genius, but surely a carp match should be contested by those who catch the most? Of course, you always catch the odd big fish, but when the final hooter went on Saturday 28th of September Billy Flowers and Jamie Londors in Sector C had caught over 60 carp, but unbelievably not one carp in 60 weighed over 1.5kg. Please, can someone on God’s green earth justify to me how a match could be held on a venue where one pair can catch over 60 carp using big-carp methods and not weigh one fish over the minimum limit SET BY THE GOVERNING BODY WHO PICK THE VENUE! 100% of the fish they caught DIDN’T COUNT!

The final hooter signaled a respectable 10th place for England, but even if we’d come 1st, 10th or 20th it wouldn’t have changed the fact that this was atrocious venue selection by FIPSed. I was able to meet Mr Matteoli, the president of FIPSed, on Saturday morning before the end of the match and I challenged him as to how he has allowed a match on there. His response was, “Well Portugal wanted the competition and this was the only venue they had.” My response was simple, “Ethiopia might want to host the Olympics but it doesn’t mean they can!” FIPSed’s own regulations state that a lake must hold a significant proportion of 4kg fish! Throughout this whole match only one 4kg fish was landed. This won the biggest fish competition. There was the odd 3kg fish in the thousands of carp that were caught. Doing some basic maths, England probably caught more than 200 carp amongst their three pairs, with ONLY 10 over the 1.5kg limit. That is 95% of their fish NOT COUNTING!

This is not sour grapes as I’m taking nothing away from Portugal, Croatia and Kazakhstan who came first, second and third. They fished their hearts out and were all in the same boat as England. But this was much more a match about hoping, than fishing your way to victory. I suspect that no matter what the circumstances, Portugal would have always finished on the podium, but certainly the other two places would have been contested more seriously by the likes of the mighty South Africa who, due to the horrendous venue selection, came LAST! Of course if the match were contested on numbers of fish caught we would have been majorly in the running for medals.

Not only did FIPSed choose an unsuitable venue in accepting Portugal’s offer in hosting the event, they then failed to research the venue diligently enough to at least logically reduce the minimum limit to 1kg or 1.2kg to at least ensure the match was fair and could be contested by the most efficient and effective carp catchers, rather than those that basically used methods to hang out for the odd larger carp. It goes against everything that a ‘skill’ competition stands for. No matter how much technical ability you had, no matter how hard you worked, you needed lashings of luck.

So many nations travelled thousands of miles, the cost of competing in this competition as an amateur event is huge! If you think we had spent a lot, South Africa, four-time World Champions, and the kings at this type of fishing don’t have a sponsor, yet had spent £80,000 of their own money to attend this event! Somebody must take responsibility for this monumental venue mistake. Romania 2012 was a fabulous spectacle as an event, but with the bait saga, so everyone was hoping that Portugal would be back to business. However, not only did the event lack any sparkle to show that angling is putting itself on a more professional platform; it also stunk of a severe lack of preparation. Even the national anthems at the opening ceremony weren’t all sorted.

If FIPSed want to lose the trust of sponsors, supporting nations competing in this competition, and nations funding themselves out of their own pockets, they only need to keep walking down this path. Hearing the comments of captains and managers of different nations, FIPSed risk reducing the success of this event due to the last two years. Why enter events when you have no guarantee that the venue has been researched properly and you can be confident of a level playing field?

After two years of sponsoring the England Team, we have been unfortunate that it has coincided with two extremely frustrating years. Portugal 2013 has not only reduced the kudos of this event, it has also severely reduced the desire of nations to enter this event in the future.
Maybe now FIPSed will consider their venue choice more seriously and only consider nations when they are guaranteed adequate stock size, stock amount and suitable venue preparation.

It’s a shame that this report had to take this tone, but being an angler, and witnessing what I saw, I realised that something has to be done now to ensure this event doesn’t become the laughing stock of the carp community, when it should be the event that youngsters dream of competing in. Not only was this lake totally unsuitable for a size of this magnitude, I felt the overall event was run like not much more than a ‘spit and sawdust’ club match! This event had been run on a shoestring budget and had the appearance of not much more than a club match on a larger scale! After the razmatazz of Romania last year, when the country spent a huge amount to make the event look amazing, this year was like taking a plunge back into the 1960’s. FIPSed must now be more hands-on with the venue, and proposals of how the event will be run, promoted and delivered. This needs to be remedied from today, to ensure we never see another World Carp Fishing Championships like Portugal 2013. Otherwise you will see nations dropping out.

Fortunately it appears that Dick Clegg OBE, our very own International Events Director from the Angling Trust, is on the case already. He told me:

“Part of my responsibility as a member of the FIPSed technical commission is to try and ensure that the rules set out for World Championships are adhered to by both competitors and host countries. It would appear that in this case the latter, Portugal, failed miserably in complying with the regulations relating to their choice of venue.

If the information is correct that I received from both my manager, Ian Huntingdon, and coach, Pete Holehouse, then the venue did not comply with the strict guidelines laid down by the rules committee. In 2006 the Portuguese Federation organised the World Games which included disciplines from Coarse, Sea and Game amounting to almost 40 different competitions all competed for within the same week. The overall event was a huge success so it came as a surprise that this venue was of such a poor quality.

In 2006 I spent a day at Lake Montargil as an observer at the venue for the carp championships when England finished in 9th position. The carp then were small but after 7 years I assumed that they would have grown on to be of a much bigger size.
How wrong can you be?

Each venue is visited by a member of the technical committee at least 12 months in advance to check all the infrastructure relating to the proposed championships. In this case one of the technical commission members is Portuguese and since his country organise at least one event every year, you would expect that everything would be in place.

During the November meeting, all reports are discussed and this particular report was accepted as read, I know because I was there.

I understand that the buck stops with Claudio Mateolli (President) and indeed the whole technical committee of which I am a member. We need to address this situation to ensure that such things don't happen again and I will do everything in my power to make sure that future events and venues are of the standard expected for a World Championship.”