Some Calgary hockey parents say spectator rules at certain rinks don’t make sense

Some Calgary parents are questioning why there are different rules for different arenas when it comes to allowing spectators in to watch hockey, ringette or figure skating amidst the pandemic — and are urging all facility operators to let parents in to watch their children on the ice.

City-run facilities permit spectators in the stands, which the city says follows provincial health guidelines.

Most community-run facilities, on the other hand, are keeping parents out of the rinks. Considering a lack of consistency and a range of rules at those facilities, some parents have been left scratching their heads.

“I would like all of the arenas to follow the Alberta Health Services guidelines, which do say that spectators can be in the building,” said Tess Blair, a Calgary mother of two young skaters, one of whom plays hockey.

Blair said the confusion prompted her to start an online petition urging all community-run arenas to open up to spectators. She said she has received a good response so far.

“The comments [from the petition] make me feel like I should be doing this,” Blair said.

One parent who signed the petition, Corey Baskin, said he doesn’t understand why people are allowed to safely shop, dine out and go to the movies during the pandemic, but not watch their child play hockey.

He said his 12-year-old son is sad his dad can’t watch him play. Baskin said his son even asked him, “What’s the point of playing if no one’s watching?”

“My heart sunk a little bit when he said that. And it’s true, like, I want to be there,” Baskin said.

Varies by arena

Calgary’s arenas fall into three categories: city-run, community-run and privately-run.

The city started allowing spectators into its arena viewing areas to watch participants as soon as these facilities reopened their doors this summer as part of Stage 2. It allows 100 spectators in total.

A city spokesperson said staff are adhering to the province’s COVID-related guidelines regarding masks, physical distancing and cleaning.

Complex co-ordinator Doug Bruneau said staff have been given a specific protocol about when and where to clean.

“It’s not different than what they normally would do. It’s a matter of frequency … and making sure all high contact points are getting done,” Bruneau said.

Bruneau said some facilities have installed arrows to direct traffic flow.

Things have been running fairly smoothly so far, Bruneau said. Many of these facilities have run a number of summer camps in July and August.

Bruneau pointed to the Southland Leisure Centre as one example.

“So the parents have had to come and drop the kids off and they go upstairs and they watch and then they come down to the lobby, wait for their kids and away they go,” he said.

In comparison, many of the community-run facilities have chosen not to allow spectators.

Instead, the facilities allow parents to help tie their child’s skates in the lobby or dressing room and then leave immediately. Parents either drop off and return or wait outside until ice time is over.

The Thorncliffe-Greenview Community Association is allowing parents to watch their children skate via the app LiveBarn that will be broadcast on a television in their bar.

CBC News reached out to some community-run facilities to learn more about their strategies during the pandemic.

“Our minor hockey and figure skating partner groups have voiced their preference of no spectators as we try to navigate the return to sport as safely as possible this fall,” said a spokesperson for the Lake Bonavista Community Association said, in part.

And they added that they plan to revisit the decision later in the fall.

Other community-run arenas CBC News reached out to, including the East Calgary Twin Arena Association, said they will be allowing spectators into their bleachers and the viewing area in their restaurant or lounge.

Finally, privately-run arenas vary in their protocols — some allow spectators, some restrict visitors to a certain number and age and some don’t allow any at all.

For example, the Vivo for Healthier Generations centre in Calgary may allow one parent per child under nine.

“Vivo is working with our sport partners closely as there is a need for guardian support with athletes under the age of nine years due to various situations like keeping social distancing, equipment and medical support. In certain situations, one guardian may be permitted on site to support their child,” reads a statement on the organization’s website.

Confusion over rules

“In a perfect world, it would be nice if all facilities were aligned,” said Kevin Kobleka, executive director of Hockey Calgary.

“But this year, each facility has different levels of risk tolerance and each facility is doing their best to ensure their facilities are safe for their patrons.”

He said he believes part of the issue is that AHS guidelines tend to change regularly. He said some guidelines are not very clear, which has led to different interpretations amongst facility operators.

According to Stage 2 of the province’s relaunch strategy, a maximum of 100 participants are allowed into indoor seated facilities with masks and physical distancing rules in place.

By comparison, the Calgary Minor Soccer Association said up to 100 participants will be allowed in all of its facilities, as per provincial guidelines.

Blair said she’s reached out to the arenas that are not allowing spectators to see what their reasoning is, but said so far she has not had any response.

She said she doesn’t understand why all arenas can’t follow provincial guidelines.

CBC News reached out to a few arenas not allowing spectators but did not receive a response by publication.

The Don Hartman North East Sportsplex just changed their protocol last week and is now allowing one person per skater into their seating area, with a maximum of 26 kids on the ice.

“Eventually things do have to move forward. I don’t think anyone would be in disagreement with that, but it’s how you do it and being safe in how you do it,” said Mike Laughton, general manager of the facility.

So he said educating the groups who use the ice is key — otherwise, he said, things can backfire and the facilities will have to take a step backward, and potentially lead to sports getting shut down temporarily.

Fear factor

Hockey mom Tessa Blair said she feels as though “fear of a shutdown” may be what is informing some operators’ decisions to err on the side of caution and not open up to spectators.

“These rumours of two weeks [closure] … I am not sure where that’s coming from,” Blair said.

The city said its response to a potential or positive case of COVID-19 includes:

  • Report potential exposures immediately.
  • Isolate symptomatic individuals as soon as possible and ensure they have safe travel home (e.g. no public transit).
  • Immediately isolate, clean and disinfect equipment and spaces the individual may have come in contact with.
  • Closing facilities or programs connected to a positive case, based on direction from AHS.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health said each situation would be evaluated individually, adding it would depend on the situation. He said officials conduct contact tracing and anyone at risk of exposure is contacted, isolated and tested.   

But Blair said she thinks it’s more safe to be able to keep an eye on ones’ child with proper protocols in place.

And she hopes her petition will show arenas that parents are eager to safely follow the guidelines.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, because we are seeing examples of it where it is working in this city, so that they are exceeding these guidelines just seems kind of ludicrous to me,” Blair said.

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