Some Manitoba hockey associations are threatening to ban children from playing after unvaccinated parents sneaked into arenas and dodged COVID-19 immunization checks to watch their kids’ games.
If caught, unvaccinated parents risk being fined $1,296 for breaching a public-health order and, depending on local rules, being banned from the rink.
Joel Braun, president of Steinbach Minor Hockey Association, said a majority of parents are following regulations aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, but some have broken the rules.
"There have been some people trying to get into arenas when they’re not vaccinated," he said. "Back doors, trying to walk past lines, stuff like that. People have been opening the doors for them.
"For me, it’s frustrating. I see it as a pretty selfish act. You’re jeopardizing the sport not only for your own kids, but everyone else’s.
"At the beginning of the year it happened a little more often. Facilities hiring security have, by and large, fixed it."
“For me, it’s frustrating. I see it as a pretty selfish act. You’re jeopardizing the sport not only for your own kids, but everyone else’s." – Joel Braun, Steinbach Minor Hockey Association president
Braun wasn’t aware of any parent being punished in Steinbach or any specific penalties in the city.
In a recent Facebook post, Portage Minor Hockey Association wrote it had become aware of unvaccinated parents "sneaking in back doors of arenas" to watch their children play.
The association imposed a zero-tolerance approach, as a result. If a parent inside an arena is unable to show proof of vaccination, their child will be removed from the team roster for the rest of the season without a refund, PMHA warned.
The children of parents who let people in through side or back doors will also receive season-long bans.
"There will be no second chances," the post stated. "Please follow the government restrictions so we can continue to have our kids play hockey."
Ian McArton, executive director of Hockey Winnipeg, said there have been a few similar incidents.
"It has happened, but it’s not common and 99 per cent of the families involved in hockey are complying with the rules and doing what they can to ensure their kids can continue to play," he said.
When it comes to punishment, Hockey Winnipeg would "encourage" the arena to issue a warning or barring notice, said McArton.
The association itself could give a written warning for a first offence and a suspension if it happens again.
A third offence could result in the child "losing the ability to participate," said McArton.
Hockey Manitoba president Bert Dow said he has heard of unvaccinated parents being punished at the local level for sneaking into arenas.
"I haven’t heard of any player being removed from a roster or suspended," he said. "Parents have been suspended from rinks.
"It’s up to the operator of the facilities to enforce the public-health regulations."
“Parents have been suspended from rinks." – Hockey Manitoba president Bert Dow
So far, no tickets have been issued for this particular offence, which carries a fine of $1,296, a spokesperson for the province said.
To enter a sports or recreational facility, adults must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and photo ID or proof there is a medical reason they cannot receive a vaccine.
Youths between the ages of 12 and 17 must show proof they have had at least one vaccine dose or a negative rapid test in the previous 72 hours to attend or participate in indoor sports.
The rules are new this year after the 2020-21 season was shortened by the pandemic.
Sports complexes in places such as Winnipeg, Steinbach and Portage have hired security or staff to enforce regulations and ask visitors to show their immunization card or QR code at the door.
Indoor sports and recreation venues are bracing for the proof of vaccination requirement to be extended to children between the ages of five and 11, who are now being offered a vaccine.
"We are prepared to follow along with these rules," said McArton, the head of Hockey Winnipeg.
Sports associations are keeping an eye on Manitoba’s COVID-19 case totals and hoping this season isn’t interrupted by another wave of the virus.
Braun said the evolving provincial health regulations are a "moving target" and associations are adapting and educating parents and children as needed.
"You have to take it month by month or, at times, week by week and follow the current regulations as best you can and let the kids play," he said. "As a hockey parent and an association, we’re enthused to see the kids playing hockey again. That part is rewarding."