FUREY: Ontario minor hockey COVID rules frustrate parents

The most controversial rule is a mandatory vaccination policy for players aged 12 and over

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This coming weekend many kids across Ontario will be lacing up their skates and stepping on the ice for the first time since March 2020. It’s a cause for celebration among families.

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But it’s also become a source of frustration, as parents sound off against the strict COVID-19 rules that have been put in place.

The most controversial of those rules is a mandatory vaccination policy for players aged 12 and over that goes above and beyond provincial rules. The Ontario government states that the vaccine passport is required for: “Facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities with the exception of youth recreational sport.”

But the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) — and other leagues across Ontario — will not honour that exemption for minors. Proof of vaccination will be due by Oct. 17, with the rule coming into effect on Nov. 1. “The GTHL policy will override the provincial policy at that time,” says the email my family received concerning the rules of our local hockey association.

Parents have been voicing their frustrations online and in emails to provincial leagues, the government and the Sun. A petition urging the GTHL to scrap their policy has received more than 9,000 signatures and was even promoted online by Stanley Cup champion Mike Commodore.

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But it looks like, for now, the league won’t budge.

“The position established by the GTHL board of directors was based on creating the safest possible protocols based on expert advice received from Toronto Public Health and the Hospital for Sick Children,” wrote Scott Oakman, executive director of the GTHL, in an email to an upset parent that was shared with the Sun.

While the league says the vaccination policy doesn’t apply to spectators, specific facilities have already brought in their own spectator mandates as well as rules allowing only one spectator per family inside the arena.

Businesses and organizations all across the province are eager to get back to normal and do whatever it takes to avoid another shut down and limit the disruptions that come with testing and isolation policies.

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That said, leagues are more than just cold-hearted bureaucracies churning out edicts. They’re community hubs for civil society. Should their default position be to cave to the lowest common denominator demands of the most skittish among us? Or should they be leaders in standing up for our youth and advocating for more balanced policies?

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If the GTHL scrapped the vaccine rule, there might be a few busybody parents who would send indignant emails to the league, but they’d soon quit their whinging and just enjoy the game.

When my kids’ soccer league got underway, the written COVID rules sent out to parents were laughably strict. They said only one family member can attend as a spectator, players should use hand sanitizer during break, and no high fives were allowed.

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Nobody followed those rules and nobody enforced them. Families came out to cheer on their kids, who had a great season enjoying doing something the same way they did it pre-COVID.

Granted, there’s a difference between an outdoor activity in the summer and an indoor activity in the fall and winter. But let’s hope something similar happens when it comes to striking a balance with the more over-the-top hockey rules.

Like this one, from the GTHL’s formal guidelines: “Cheering or yelling by spectators is strongly discouraged.”

No cheering in hockey? Good luck with that. Some rules are just meant to be broken.

afurey@postmedia.com

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