Return to play… and unsightly gestures in minor sports

Hunt the natural, it comes back at a gallop. After three seasons spent under the yoke of the pandemic and health measures, amateur sports were able to resume their normal activities in 2022, to the delight of young and old. But the return of competitions has been accompanied by an upsurge in unsightly gestures, and this, in the midst of a shortage of officials.

Matches, tournaments and even complete seasons canceled: the last few years have not been easy for young Quebec athletes. After stimulus package after stimulus package, they were able to get back to business as usual over the past year.

But if one could believe that this forced break would lead to a change in mentalities on the sports scene, it is clear that certain old habits have not taken long to make a noticeable comeback.

In May, a video showing a grandfather jumping on a soccer field to hit a 17-year-old referee quickly made the rounds on the web, in addition to circulating extensively in the media. In hockey, more recently, another viral video showed a woman clinging to a bay window to harass an official.

Death threat

This kind of story, Éric Black has heard almost every day since the start of the hockey season. As chief referee for the Montreal region, it is on his desk that problematic cases involving officials from all over the island are found.

“In 24 years in the world of refereeing, I have never experienced this. This is one of the worst years, if not the worst. It’s terrible every game,” he said straight away in an interview with The Canadian Press.

According to him, the problem is even more visible during youth category matches, such as M11 or M13, even if “everyone knows that it is referees who start”.

This fall, Mr. Black notably had to manage a case where, in an U13 C match, two new referees who were in their first career match were intimidated as they left the ice by parents. One parent even made his way to the officials’ locker room to let them know his thoughts.

For one of the two officials involved, this meeting was the only time he wore the striped jersey, he who, together with his parents, chose from that moment to hang up his whistle.

Other officials have even received death threats, according to Mr. Black.

“A referee was told by a coach that he had a gun in his chariot and that he was going to use it, then the assistant coach mimed that he was going to cut his throat, ”he says.

The coach in question was suspended for seven games and has since returned to his team’s bench, Mr Black said.

In the midst of a shortage of officials, this kind of behavior is « ridiculous », according to the chief referee. While he recognizes that referees are sometimes called upon to work in categories above their level, he recalls that this remains a better option than canceling games for lack of being able to offer the service.


In recent years, referees under 18 have also worn a green armband to indicate to all stakeholders – coaches, players and parents – that they are starting in the middle. However, “people don’t give a damn,” says Mr. Black.

For him, the only effective way to control angry parents in the stands would be to assign a person in charge of each minor hockey association responsible for going to reason with people who are causing problems.

“We had that once during a tournament final, and it worked,” he pleads.

However, Mr Black says that the atmosphere will absolutely have to change in 2023, because with the tournament season in January and February, he will have to rely on a motivated workforce to succeed in supplying all the referees required.

« Referees won’t be better, they won’t be worse: they have a job to do, a job which is not always easy to do, but only they can do it. And the referees cannot always manage what happens in the stands, ”he recalls.

« Yes, we’re going to get yelled at, it’s still part of the job, but is it really worth receiving death threats because you did two or three bad things? calls in a game? Really not,” insists Mr. Black.

Since the beginning of the season, « four or five » new referees have already left their posts in Montreal, and about fifteen games have had to be canceled due to the lack of available officials.

Restart the machine

Beyond these unfortunate incidents, the amateur sports « machine » was able to resume cruising speed in 2022.

It didn’t all happen overnight, particularly due to the Omicron wave, which disrupted the first months of the year. But the health situation, which has stabilized over time, has meant that today there are practically no obstacles left for sports activities in Quebec.

In the different regions of the province, the events that were canceled in 2020 and 2021 have made a comeback, sometimes after a lot of work to find volunteers ready to get involved on short notice.

This is particularly the case in the Outaouais, where the “MAHG en fête” hockey festival in Aylmer made its big comeback this week, with 178 players aged 4 to 6 years old. This meeting, which was considered a must in the region before the pandemic, was organized in record time this year, at the request of the parents of young players.

“The parents wanted to celebrate hockey with their children, they wanted to give them that opportunity,” said festival manager Karine Labelle on the phone.

Faced with the strong demand to find what is in a way a family celebration at the arena, Mme Labelle took things in hand this fall, recruited volunteers and found several sponsors who agreed to join the adventure.

Herself the mother of young Victor, who walked the ice of the Frank-Robinson Arena during the festival, Mme Labelle is well placed to see the success of this comeback.

“The stands are full, we applaud each goal, each time it’s as if we had just celebrated a National League game. Everyone is very happy to see the children having fun, learning to skate and scoring their first goal. It’s really beautiful to see,” she says.

If, for the young people who remain, activities have resumed their normal course in 2022, we cannot ignore the fact that several sports organizations have seen their number of registrations drop during the years marked by the pandemic. And despite a slight rebound in some sports for the seasons that have taken place this year, it will still take hard work to convince some young people to get back on board the ship.

Get young people moving

The 2022 edition of ParticipACTION’s Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth gave Canadian children a « D » grade because less than one-third of children and youth, or 28%, meet the Guidelines’ recommendation Canada in 24-hour movement.

In the office of the Quebec Minister of Sport, Recreation and the Outdoors, Isabelle Charest, we assure that we are well aware of the situation and want to act quickly, « and this is all the more true after the last years of the pandemic that we just crossed”.

« To do this, it is certain that we will have to continue to develop sports infrastructures, but we will also focus on the creation of green spaces, we will promote access to nature, we will develop our trails, and we will do so in collaboration with all stakeholders in the field. We also want to deploy a sports offer that better meets the needs and aspirations of women and girls, and the Minister will see to it personally,” said Minister Charest’s press attaché, Lambert Drainville.

The Minister also makes it a point to improve safety and integrity in sports, he adds, which will include, among other things, the overhaul of the Sports Safety Act next spring.

It would be a first since 1997.

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