Youth soccer games marred by racial slurs
Players, coaches and parents in the Lower Mainland's 4 District Soccer League are being warned that commenting about the colour of an individual's skin or about his or her nationality or religion is "absolutely unacceptable."
"Never before has the discipline committee had so many complaints of alleged racial slurs and derogatory commenting," wrote Jackie Larson on behalf of the league's discipline committee in an e-mail released to coaches and managers Wednesday.
Larson wouldn't quantify the number of complaints, and wouldn't single out the teams for privacy reasons, but told The Richmond Review that the problems were coming from as low as the under-13 and under-14 ranks.
"Nobody's angels here. Coaches, players, parents too."
Larson said the issue has come to a head over the past six weeks, and she's certain that for every complaint that's come to the attention of the disciplinary committee, there are many others that have gone unreported.
The incidents have in some cases escalated beyond the utterance of racial slurs, to pushing and shoving.
"People are offended to be called a name," Larson said, adding that the incidents involve exchanges both on and off the soccer pitch.
Asked if any suspensions have been handed out, Larson pointed out the challenge has been that the referees haven't independently witnessed the incidents. And so it's become a "he said, he said" that's resulted in hearings and ultimately only warnings.
Charlie Cuzzetto, president of the B.C. Soccer Association, said racism won't be tolerated on and off the pitch.
"It's not in the spirit of the game."
The association will be looking at the incidents involving the 4 District League.
He clarified that videotaped evidence of exchanges, and information from independent witnesses should be utilized in coming to an appropriate penalty for these types of infractions.
"We definitely wouldn't tolerate anything like that. In the heat of battle people say stupid things, however stupid things shouldn't excalate to racial overtones or discriminatory jargon."
A couple of the challenges is that the referees for the games are often very young and inexperienced. Another is that there's a desperate need for coaches, and volunteer parents, many of whom have no coaching experience or training, are asked to step up.
Larson said that she's certain that over the years, referees have encountered challenging experiences that have led to their departure.
"You can't have a young referee going home crying and expecting him to do another game," she said.
In the e-mail circulated this week, Larson wrote: "Commenting about the color (sic) of an individual's skin or about his or her nationality, religion or personally insulting descriptions of that person is not only hurtful it is absolutely unacceptable."
The message is also posted on the Richmond Youth Soccer Association's website at www.richmondsoccer.com.
"There can be no innocent bystanders when there is a commitment by teams; their team officials, players and spectators to be respectful to all. Everyone deserves to go home having a good experience and some have not been so fortunate this season."
In the letter—which coaches and managers have been instructed to hold a special team meeting about in order to discuss—league members are reminded of the code of ethics, FIFA Laws of the Game, and the B.C. Soccer Association Fair Play code.
"Sport involves respect for the opposition and game officials; team officials must develop this by their words and actions...Coaches are the most important influence on players. Coaches who positively guide, mentor and help players to enjoy the game will give a lifelong enjoyment of the game," the disciplinary committee's letter states.
The 4 District league comprises 400 under-11 to under-18 boys teams from Richmond, Vancouver, Burnaby and the North Shore.