There’s relief from local schools that the friction between two organizations over high school soccer refereeing appears to have been resolved, for now. The dispute had already caused disruption to the new season and put the upcoming high school provincial tournament in Prince Albert in doubt.
The Saskatchewan Soccer Association (SSA) and Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association (SHSAA) had been at loggerheads, with the SHSAA refusing to pay a nominal fee the SSA had requested to go toward the services of accredited match officials. The SSA then withdrew those officials from handling high school games and anyone who turned up to referee a match faced the threat of sanctions. A key aspect of the dispute appeared to centre on the safety of referees while doing their job, according to the SSA.
Tim Strom, athletics director at Carlton Comprehensive Public High School said he wasn’t privy to what was going on behind the scenes but figured it was a power struggle between the two organizations. Ultimately, he’s happy things appear to be getting resolved because the start of the soccer season had been impacted.
“We had gone into panic mode here because we’re hosting the provincial championships the last weekend of next month,” Strom said. “We already had to cancel a boy’s exhibition game and our girls were supposed to play in a tournament in Moose Jaw this coming weekend, which was cancelled.”
Strom said they were trying to scramble to hopefully find some non-registered match officials [for the P.A.provincial tournament], ” because we didn’t want to cancel an event as that’s just to the detriment of the kids.”
As things turned out, the two organizations issued a joint media release Wednesday saying they had reached an agreement whereby the SSA would provide sanctioning of SHSAA games and allow registered officials to participate.
“In recent discussions, both sides have agreed to work together to ensure the athletes, coaches and officials can participate in a safe and positive environment,” the statement read.
As Strom explained, the crux of the dispute was the SSA’s request for a fee amounting to a dollar per registered player, but he adds the schools were reluctant to pay up and set a precedent going forward because they’re on limited government funding.
“The SHSAA hadn’t paid the SSA in the past, this was something new, and they weren’t prepared to do that,” he said.” Obviously, if that starts with one group, maybe other groups could start asking for money.”
Lyle McKellar, the executive director of the SHSAA did not want to comment beyond his statement in the media release which said, in part “ SHSAA is thankful for the continued work on this issue by SSA. We look forward to pooling resources …” It was not immediately clear what "pooling resources" meant.
In an email, Doug Pederson, the SSA executive director said in part, “We are very pleased that we now have a framework in place to build the foundation of a long-term partnership. “ Pederson added having "an environment that safeguards the welfare [of referees’], has been the driving motivation through this process.”
The renewed détente between the two organizations didn’t come soon enough to save this weekend’s girls' tournament in Moose Jaw however. An organizer said the event could not be resurrected because there wasn’t enough time for the various teams and parents to rearrange travel and accommodation.
As for the future, at least one high school sports official said they hoped the spirit of cooperation between the SSA and SHSAA would hold.
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