Cobourg politicans need to be more considerate of hockey fans

First published: October 07, 2004

Cobourg hockey fans are riled after town council decided to install netting around the circumference of the Memorial Arena, including every nook and cranny. Once more, councillors find themselves in the midst of a controversy due to some shortsightedness, when it could have been completely avoided.

Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner got the ball rolling last week at council when he asked why the rink is fully netted. No doubt he was motivated by complaints from hockey fans and sports stalwarts in the community after a few weeks into the season.

Town administrator Steve Robinson said it is an insurance issue and there was a complaint after a puck went flying off the ice and into the crowd.

He said a young girl was killed by a flying puck in Columbus, Ohio, in 2002. But the issue continues to make news.

On Sept. 6, an 11-year old Ottawa girl’s family launched a lawsuit after she was hit in the head with a puck during a house league hockey game. The family is seeking $250,000 in damages from the city.

The Canada Safety Council confirms, despite general concerns about pucks flying off the ice, incidents continue to be common.

Robinson also said there was little choice and it was forced upon the town.

That is not quite true.

Certainly, the insurance company wants the protection. It makes sense to be prudent when such a danger and the possibility of a payout exists. But there are no government regulations forcing municipalities to do this.

As of May 11, the Canada Safety Council released a set of standards to protect spectators in arenas. It notes deaths are rare, but lost eyes and skull fractures from flying pucks are common. Puck can hit speeds of up to 150 km/h.

The Canadian Recreation Facilities Council estimates there are 2,500 community arenas in Canada, some up to 30 years old. Many of these facilities are about to be renovated, it states. So the time is ripe to take action.

In response, the Canadian Standards Association, in conjunction with these other organizations, designed parameters to reduce risk of injury. These are all voluntary. None are retroactive. However, the recreation council and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities fully endorse them.

In the meantime, Cobourg fans are angry, not because of the principle of protecting fans is being ignored, but due to the horrible sightlines created by the netting.

Mayor Peter Delanty explained the cost was prohibitive, up to $60,000; instead of the $13,000 for the netting.

Again, it is not quite true.

Former Cobourg Daily Star sportswriter Layton Dodge, a pillar of the hockey community, argues fans are leaving in droves because of the terrible conditions. That will mean lost revenue, a factor drastically affecting the current budget. Taxpayer may end up covering lost revenues.

Rather than spending the cash needed, like Port Hope council did, Cobourg decided to take the bargain basement approach. But why?

Hockey is a major outlet for Cobourg residents, both as fans of hockey teams and as participants. Surely an investment in a clear glass protection system would have made sense and expressed the kind of support these families and fans deserve. It is amazing the dollars these parents and kids raise to pay user fees to the town. It should not have been so hard for council to return the favour.

But it is this kind of petty thinking that pervades Cobourg council.

Only recently, the deputy mayor was ripping a strip off the media for holding politicians accountable for Constable Chris Garrett’s funeral expenses. Instead of sitting quite until all the details could be fully released to the public and ending any discussion, council fumbled a simple request. His attack, which was really a figure raised in speculation by the police board chairman during an interview, only inflamed the situation rather than demonstrate a considerate (and considered) approach.

This only angered taxpayers, who have every right to know the full costs; how much public money is being spent by the various parties; and disrespect to the family for the crass politicization of a painful event.

This callous disregard needs to be corrected in both cases.

Hockey parents and players should boycott any presentation ceremonies put on by politicians in the future. For years, championship teams come to the council chambers to receive plaques, trophies and handshakes from councillors. It is the kind of manipulative public relations politicians use all the time. No more.

That should grease the wheels at town hall. And maybe when council sees its way clear to doing the right thing, hockey fans will also get a clear view. And municipal politicians will more visibly demonstrate they can stop doing things in a half-baked manner.

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