The Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association released Friday an open letter warning members they're pondering a "spectator-free weekend" of action in response to fans abusing officials and players. And it's about time other amateur leagues across the continent followed their lead and took similarly harsh measures to address a growing problem.
Minor hockey leagues have realized for years now they have an issue on their hands: the overzealous, expectant hockey parent – the alleged "adult" who thinks it within their right to abuse teenaged referees or players, as if they had some sort of final say on a subjectively-officiated sport. VIAHA president Jim Humphrey made it clear they are ruining the game and the ability of young people to learn and grow in different roles and remain in the system:
"A very small minority feel they have the right to verbally abuse and harass young men and women, frequently little older than the players in the games they are officiating," Humphrey wrote in the letter. "The vindictiveness is resulting in a loss of both promising young officials and senior officials alike, as well as making the game difficult for the players to have fun. It is incumbent upon everyone who supports minor hockey to recognize that it must be a safe and harassment free environment for our players, volunteers and officials."
The potential ban on spectators may shock some, but the truth is the VIAHA is absolutely correct to send a shot across the bow and really wake people up to how serious the problem is. For far too long, hockey been extremely lax in allowing boorish behavior under the guise of "competitiveness." It shouldn't have to be said, but as the VIAHA has discovered, it needs to be said: it doesn't matter how badly you want to win a game – if you can't summon up enough base-level respect for young officials with a difficult job and/or young players who make mistakes in a sport that is all about mistakes, you automatically forfeit the privilege of watching them do it. Your status as a parent is not a license to inflict yourself on perfectly innocent hockey fans.
So well done, VIAHA. More amateur hockey leagues would do well to realize what you have: that protecting players and participants isn't just about outfitting them in proper hockey equipment – sometimes, you have to shield them from the dangers in the stands.