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HELSTON: When council calls the shots on local sports

Charlotte Helston is a reporter with InfoNews.
July 18, 2014 - 7:00 AM

Local government has had its mitts all over three newcomer sports over the past year: longboarding, pickleball and mixed martial arts.

The sports have virtually nothing in common except for the fact they are relatively new, emerging activities that are gathering fierce followings and lots of reaction from local politicians. But what is the government’s role in controlling how, or if, someone plays a certain sport? When do politics get in the way?

This week Vernon council moved ahead with a bylaw to ban professional mixed martial arts events in the city because of health concerns for the fighters and because of their loose and unexplained allegations the sport is linked to organized crime. MMA proponents are offended by council’s plans to squash their events in the city, insisting it’s an MMA athlete’s right to compete, just as it’s a hockey player’s choice to skate around with 200 pound brutes.

Almost a year ago to the day, council was discussing the safety risks associated with another sport—longboarding—and whether they wanted to create a bylaw requiring boarders to wear safety gear, such as helmets.

Mayor Rob Sawatzky grappled with the fine balance of promoting safety while also encouraging individuals to get outdoors. 

We saw the tragic outcome when a longboarder was hit by a car last weekend. Police say the teenage longboarder failed to halt at a stop sign. We don’t know exactly what safety gear the teen was or wasn’t wearing, but regardless, the event is a pretty good argument for a longboarding safety bylaw. Just like cyclists are required to wear helmets, and drivers seat belts, making longboarders wear safety gear would probably save lives. At the very least, it’s a better idea than banning longboarding.

Then there’s the pickleballers. They’re eager to find a place to play the sport, which is similar to tennis and badminton. But when they began a trial run at the Middleton Mountain tennis courts, an outcry bounced back from local residents over the incessant thwack, thwack, thwacking sound. Coldstream council ultimately decided to restrict the pickleballers to specific hours at the court to minimize the conflict; a compromise.

Local politicians play a tough role; they can’t please everyone. They also have a lot of power for a group of just seven people and their decisions have a big impact. I’d hazard a guess most of them haven’t tried longboarding, mixed martial arts or even pickleball, so are they really the best people to be calling the shots? Council has a place promoting safety and the best interests of its citizens, but flat out banning a sporting event seems like an easy out. 

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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