Saturday, April 01, 2006

Getting Boot Miffs Soccer Groups

Saturday, April 1, 2006
Getting Boot Miffs Soccer Groups
By Morris Dalla Costa
Free Press Sports Columnist

The soccer people in London are feeling a little kicked around.

Come the middle of July, during the busiest time of their schedule, the London and District Youth Soccer League will have to reschedule about 180 games when as many as 10 of its soccer pitches will be taken over by the 2006 world field lacrosse championship.

Included in the loss of fields for a 10-day period from July 13 to 22 is the North London Soccer Complex.

"That's a lot of games to reschedule," LDYSL director Tom Partalas said. "And the city has done it without a lot of communication. There were two of us at a soccer field task force meeting in October when we were told.

"These are soccer fields. They should be used as soccer fields. What are they going to use them for next?"

The LDYSL has had to scramble to reschedule the games. It has been forced to go to private fields like the German-Canadian Club and make teams travel all over the city.

There are many other soccer organizations and clubs using those fields. The LDYSL has just finished its registration at the competitive level. Even though it has dropped the under-19 age group, its team registrations for LDYSL alone went from 302 to 325 teams. That's almost 6,000 players. Registration will likely exceed 20,000 players in London and the immediate area.

But it's not just the inconvenience or the added cost of not being able to use the fields that's frosting soccer people. It's the continued perception soccer gets second-class treatment. That, even though the number of people playing the sport far exceeds participation in any other sport in the city.

"When we worked with the city to build and improve these fields, we didn't ask them for anything free," Partalas said. "We're paying extra to repay the money put into the fields."

The hope is there will be enough money left from a legacy fund from the world field lacrosse championship to build a field lacrosse complex on a property just north of the North London Soccer Complex.

Partalas is concerned and he has every right to be. The North London complex is a terrific facility for the game and the city looks after it with great care. They don't allow any teams to play on it until after the first weekend in May. Early-bird soccer tournaments with 100 teams or more opt to go to Tillsonburg and other communities who have better soccer facilities.

The city is also cautious during the season about the use of the complex. If field conditions are sloppy, games are usually cancelled.

"What if the weather isn't good?" Partalas asked. "This is a world championship. They are going to play on it no matter what kind of weather. What kind of condition is the field going to be in when it's all done? We'll be left playing on dirt. You can't just toss a few seeds on the field and say we'll be ready to play tomorrow."

Tim Hobbs, chair of the lacrosse event, is sympathetic.

"But at least they have fields," he said. "We don't have one dedicated lacrosse field in this city."

And he says the city isn't about to cut him a break.

"The city has put about $10,000 into this event, but they want to charge me $63,000 for field rental. I'm embarrassed to say the federal government, who declared lacrosse a national sport, has not given us one penny.

"Thank God for the provincial government, who came up with $142,000."

Kent McVittie, manager of recreational services and attractions, wants to minimize the inconvenience to soccer organizations.

"We'll be getting a more accurate account of the number of teams which will be here and the number of fields they will need."

The championship will feature 22 teams from around the world with Canada's division playing at TD Waterhouse Stadium. The tournament also features a lacrosse festival. So far, 39 men's teams and 24 youth teams have registered and they are guaranteed five games each. That's a lot of games.

The world lacrosse championship will put London under a medium-wattage spotlight on the world stage. But that spotlight has also illuminated a problem soccer people have known about for a while.

Even with recent improvements, there's still not enough fields to make anyone happy.


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