Enjoying a break from representing his country, former World Champion Iain Barr ponders the new selection policy and his future involvement
Iain Barr discusses England’s selection policy
REPRESENTING your country is the pinnacle of any sporting career. I’ve been lucky to have represented England at every flyfishing discipline and feel honoured. I’ve reached the very highest accolade by being the best in the world at my sport, something I still find unbelievable to this day. I did it individually and as part of a team, and that moment when the late Ian Greenwood confirmed I was the individual World Champion will never leave me.
Was England a closed group?
I have so many great memories from World and European championships and have made so many great friends. It’s these memories that many aspire to and want to be part of. England Team selection was often seen by many aspiring anglers as a closed group, something they’d never be part of. Some thought the teams were selected based on their friendships with the selectors. The unfounded rumours spread and many cried out for a transparent selection process. It’s arrived.
The current system
Any angler aspiring to fish for England in World and European teams must have earned a loch-style cap and rivers cap to be eligible. These are the basic skills required in most championships. You can enter an elite programme over five weekends. All disciplines will be tested – loch-style, river and small water bank fishing. Results from these weekends will be used to establish the individuals to qualify for the championships. Venues will be carefully selected to test anglers to the limits and mimic the forthcoming championships. There are two championships per year currently – Worlds and European. I understand in the imminent future it will be one championship per year. Teams will be selected from the qualifiers based on the venues and the individual skills.
It’s fair but not without fault!
I have to say it seems a very fair system. Meet the eligible criteria to be able to enter this programme and the path is clear. There is a £30 entry fee per weekend with fishing and accommodation etc on top. Money will be an issue for many and it’s another five free weekends to find on top of an already busy schedule for the match angler. I guess anglers can prioritise and if I should try to get back in, I would have to make these choices. The system does, however, have its critics. Some anglers feel they have met the criteria to be in the England Team through hard graft and effort only for the system to change. I do feel for these people and think the Angling Trust has bowed down to pressure from many on the sidelines having their say, who simply wouldn’t be good enough at these levels.
You must handle pressure
There’s a huge gap between fishing Home Internationals and stepping up to the big stage. You often see your river section for the first time as you start your three-hour session and you can’t get to practice on the lake venues. Then there is the pressure. It’s different. I’ve seen great anglers crumble as they simply can’t handle it, and top anglers struggle. It’s not just about ability, it’s much more than that and those involved will know exactly what I mean. You have to be fit, you have to be agile. It becomes tactical, it becomes a science, everything is finetuned and fine-tuned 10 times over again.
Does it breed inconsistency?
But the Angling Trust is trying to do what is right. No one can argue with results and anglers have five weekends to impress and deliver. If this eliminating process continues every year the only downside I can see is that the teams will be inconsistent. New faces will be in year in and year out and there’ll be no consistency. Teams improve by fishing with each other over a period of time. The winning team of 2009 had fished together for several years with a few of us having fished together for almost 10 championships. That special team was soon split and no World medals have arrived since. I expect the cream will come to the top and some familiar faces will no doubt be in more than others, but it will be a mix of experienced and inexperienced. I’m not sure that this is the perfect solution for success. I have no doubts the pool of skilled anglers will grow with this process so hats off to the Angling Trust for giving it a go. But is it the right solution? Only time will tell. I hope individual qualifiers are scrutinised on ability, experience of adaptability, individual traits, willingness to work, willingness to sacrifice, personality types and a hunger to win. It is a minefield but I would love to see it work and bring much more success to ATTEFF (Angling Trust Team England Fly Fishing). So, will I be coming back? One day I would like to. Norway is very tempting! The championships are special, they push every competitive bone in my body. The team becomes a close unit and in one very special year we got it right. A team of hungry and highly-skilled anglers with a desire to win. I’d like to be part of a team like this again.
“You have to be fit, you have to be agile. It becomes tactical, it becomes a science, everything is fine-tuned 10 times over.”