Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Soccer report should be heeded

By KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

Wednesday, June 14, 2000

It is the most important report London has ever seen from the soccer community.
On Monday night, an extensive report was given to council from the soccer field task force, a 10-member group enlisted in March to help come up with solutions for London's shortfall of field time.

It's a realistic, fair report, but what happens now is up to city politicians. Report figures show close to $5 million is needed and if all goes well, London's severe shortage of soccer pitches will be fixed in the next three to five years.

The city already seems fearful of an outcry from the public and other sports groups.

Controller Orlando Zamprogna is worried about politicians' "flesh picked off" and wants a detailed listing of how much the city subsidizes each sport.

First a new arena, then a four-pad facility at Western Fair, now new soccer complexes. Money, money, money from taxpayers' wallets.

But let's look at some numbers.

There are about 6,600 London kids involved in minor hockey; in soccer, 11,000.

The downtown arena will cost $41.5 million and the city is paying $31.7 million of that.

The arena at the fairgrounds will cost $17 million and the city is kicking in $5 million.

With 11,000 children playing community soccer, 3,500 in clubs and another 1,000 on the waiting list, it's clear London reflects the national statistics that show more people are playing soccer in Canada than hockey.

However, in London, a lot of the children playing hockey also play soccer. There's no doubt London needs more ice as well, but it's time the soccer community got some attention, too.

The report also points out London does not have a premier public field needed for competitive games with the proper pitch dimensions, lights, dressing rooms and public washrooms.

Building two soccer facilities with about five fields apiece would cost the city about $1.7 million and soccer groups have said they'll pay a rental surcharge to help defray those costs. The surcharge will offset 50 per cent of the capital costs of the project. In 2001, a user fee will also be implemented.

Sounds like a good deal for the city.

"We're very conscientious," said Tom Partalas, a member of the task force and a director of the London and District Youth Soccer League. "The taxpayers, we've never burdened them with anything. We're not looking at a big megastadium."

While debate continues to rage about the location, costs and seating number for the proposed downtown arena, the soccer community quietly tries to deal with the acute pitch shortage and figure out ways to get some of the 1,000 children off the waiting list.

"The time is due. We have to look after our kids," Partalas said.

It hasn't been easy the last few years. Schedule planners have had to be extremely creative to find places for people to play. It's taken hours to draw up schedules and countless headaches along the way.

There have been waiting lists in London for the last five years. Since 1980, participation in London soccer programs has grown every year. Last year the growth rate was 13 per cent and the numbers will continue to rise, soccer groups are predicting.

Partalas believes numbers would have even been higher, but some teams have folded and children have turned to other sports because of lack of pitches.

By forming the soccer task force, the city showed it cares about the field shortage.

The right thing to do now is accept the task force's proposals.


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