On The Record with Gilberto Caceres, Director, National Water Polo Federation of Venezuela

Lima, Tuesday, August 6, 2019. Soleylin Martinez from Venezuela, left, faces the USA ’s team during Women's Water Polo match at Villa María del Triunfo at the Pan American Games Lima 2019. Copyright Paul Vallejos / Lima 2019 ** NO SALES ** NO ARCHIVES **
Soleylin Martinez from Venezuela, left, faces the U.S. in the 2019 Pan American Games. Photo Courtesy: Paul Vallejos / Lima 2019

By Luis Enrique Olaya Ravenna

LIMA, PERU. Gilberto Cáceres of Venezuela has dedicated his entire life to his country’s water polo fortunes. Director of the National Water Polo Federation of Venezuela, he is a formidable figure who wears his passion on his sleeve as well as loyalty to his country on his jersey—perhaps the sole pillar sustaining a once-prominent Venezuelan water polo program. Even now, given his country’s political and economic crisis, Caceres keeps on fighting to prevent water polo from disappearing entirely.

pan_american_logo.svgIn Lima with a women’s team for the 2019 Pan American Games, Caceres has had to battle to develop a young team with talent but little opportunity for any of the stabilizing routines—including practice—that will enable his athletes to flourish. Undeterred by a last place finish in Group A play, the veteran coach—who now lives and coaches in Barcelona, spoke with Swimming World about his career in polo, the challenges of sustaining a team in a country wracked by internal strife and besieged by external pressures and his enduring loyalty to his sport and Venezuela.

– When did you start with water polo in Venezuela?

I started 20 years ago from nothing. The entire history of men’s water polo in Venezuela is because of me. We began from zero and reached second place in South and Central America. These are my fifth Panamerican Games. To date, I’ve participated in the FINA World League, the pre-Olympic Games in 2012 and, at the moment, I live in Barcelona coaching the Poble Nou Club in Cataluña.

-What is it like to work in water polo given your country’s situation?

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Caceres with Lima 2019 volunteer Maria Elena Vargas. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

It’s very hard, but that’s why I’m here. I came to support the national team and try to qualify for the pre-Olympic tournament. My goal is to find one more hope. Three years ago we had a consolidated structure to practice this sport. We had national and regional centers, a league and even players in Europe. Unfortunately, the current context depleted our advances; nonetheless, right now, I have Venezuelan coaches in various countries, 12 players in Spain and 7 players at universities in the United States.

– What is the current situation of your team?

The players are waiting for the political situation of the country to be fixed. Water polo did not leave Venezuela and that is why we came with a team that has all the illusion and are playing every match hoping to win.

– Who helps you in this task of supporting water polo in Venezuela?

We receive the support of the Venezuelan Olympic Committee and Panamsports. We also have sponsors who support us. We have a structure. A couple of years ago we managed to be in all the finals and if we are not here with the men’s team it is because Peru was host and had the place of the local team.

– Do you believe a lack of government support has negatively affected Venezuela’s water polo?

Lima, Tuesday, August 6, 2019. Soleimar Martínez and Soleylin Martínez from Venezuela faces a USA ’s team player during their Women's Water Polo match at Villa María del Triunfo at the Pan American Games Lima 2019. Copyright Paul Vallejos / Lima 2019 ** NO SALES ** NO ARCHIVES **

Sisters Soleimar and Soleylin Martínez of Venezuela defending Rachel Fattal of the U.S. Courtesy: Paul Vallejos / Lima 2019

As a Venezuelan, I prefer not to talk about the national government. If I am where I am is because of my country. We are in a bad situation but at some point it will improve. We are going to resist, creating foundations, working with children and going forward. Venezuelan water polo didn’t get where it is alone. In these 20 years a lot of money has been invested and they have given us a lot of support. This situation is momentary for Venezuela. Maybe at another time we would have traveled to Europe to prepare for the Panamericans, but this time we didn’t have the resources to do so.

– Why do you fight so hard for you sport?

I love water polo. I am what I am because of it and I met the world through this sport. My best friends came from water polo. I even lost three marriages because of this passion. All for Venezuelan water polo.

Wherever I go, people will always know that I represent my country’s water polo.

– How hard is it for you to know that you have a very well-built structure with so many players that could be participating in world class events but they can’t because of the current circumstances of Venezuela?

I suffer every day. Every time I think about it, tears come to my eyes. It is so frustrating and sad to know that something that cost me so much to build can be lost. I’m here because of that, to try and help my country. I am what I am thanks to water polo and that’s something I’ll carry to my grave.

– You could be working with another national team. Why do you choose to stay with Venezuela?

There are proposals and that’s why I went to Barcelona. Wherever I go I will be representing Venezuela. This might be the last time I would lead a women’s team but wherever I go, and whatever I achieve, I will do it to demonstrate the talent and work of Venezuela.

Swimming World is covering water polo at the 2019 Pan American Games, with daily reports from the Villa Maria del Triunfo Aquatics Complex in Lima. Luis Enrique Olaya Ravenna is a journalist and a Peruvian correspondent with Panamsports for the 2019 Pan American Games.

2 comments

  1. avatar

    a leguas se ve que eres un enchufado del gobierno alli no hablas que en venezuela solo se cuenta con tres piscinas par waterpolo aqui en la zona oriental.ninguna, de que apoyo hablas del gobierni nacional, ven date una vuelta por los polideportivos.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Querido Miguel:

      Gracias por este comentario No sé si sería bienvenido en Venezeula PERO ciertamente consideraría un viaje. Si hubo algo que me impresionó en los Juegos Panamericanos, fue la pasión del entrenador Cáceres por el polo, y su decepción porque no hay suficiente apoyo para su deporte en el país del que está orgulloso de ser ciudadano.

      Su corresponsal