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Minor hockey association upset with arena closures

Minor hockey executives are ‘devastated’ by the city’s decision to keep arenas closed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

After suggesting earlier this year that arenas could be re-opened by August 4, the city announced this week that due to “ongoing financial and operational challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” arenas will remain closed in definitely.

“The City of Prince George announcement to keep arenas closed indefinitely is devastating to the youth of Prince George and all surrounding Northern Communities,” said Glynis Vennberg, President of Prince George Minor Hockey, in a statement posted on the association’s website.

“It is especially disappointing when northern B..C has gone 36 consecutive days without a positive COVID 19 case.”

Vennberg said the association has been talking with city officials since March but was shocked that they weren’t consulted on the decision to keep arenas closed. The city, in a news release announcing the closure, claim it has consulted with user groups about the indefinite closure.

Arena revenues have been severely impacted by the pandemic, according to the city. In addition, ongoing requirements related to physical distancing, increased cleaning and sanitization, and capping attendance at 50 would negatively affect arena usage and operations, it said.

“PGMHA is one of, if not the biggest, user group of ice in Prince George having spent $585,000 in 2019-2020 on ice rental,” Vennberg said. “We are now having to react to our members on the uncertain future of hockey in our city. Hundreds of volunteer and paid hours have been logged planning for a very detailed and safe minor hockey season since June, as we imagine is true with the other arena user groups.”

Even amidst the pandemic, Prince George Minor Hockey registration numbers are on par with this time last year. These members have registered with very little documentation, faithfully looking forward to a modified season of hockey, said Vennberg.

“We have worked hard in conjunction with BC Hockey, Hockey Canada, and viaSport at planning to provide a detailed product where families are getting value, feel safe, develop and have fun,” she said. “ReturnTo-Play documentation for summer ice times was provided to our point of contact with the City of Prince George prior to this announcement.”

PGMHA was releasing season Return-To-Play documentation to its membership this week and still plans to do so. The association was planning  to announce summer camps, its annual general meeting as well as a new staff member to PGMHA this week.

“Some of these plans will now have to change as the mood certainly has,” she said. “The impacts of the arena closures on school programming, school registration, billet families, etc. will be significant. All hockey in northern B.C. will be driven out of the North. Hockey players will go elsewhere. Families are currently travelling to outlying communities to get ice in preparation for the season, players cannot just take a year off from hockey and continue their development.”

This means people are travelling out of town and taking those dollars with them.

Vennberg said each member group is designing and following all the regulations that have been put forth by BCPRA, viaSport and their own governing groups.

“We are doing our best to conform to the new normal and provide a much-needed community service,” she said. “We are asking that the city supports all user groups along with all of their members and open our arenas.”

An online petition at Change.org, organized by Tim Clough, calling for the city to open arenas has 1,546 signatures.

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