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Richmond soccer club calls foul over field time crunch

140 kids crammed onto one field 'due to city’s new matrix,' claims Richmond FC chair

Around 140 kids are being crammed onto a soccer field in central Richmond a few times a week due to a lack of field space.

The issue, according to Chris Parry, chair of Richmond FC (RFC), stems from the City of Richmond’s new field allocation policy.

Parry said the club asked for about “60 or so” hours a week of field time over the course of the season but, due to the city’s new “matrix,” the club only received 50 hours.

“So for the rest, we’ve got to squeeze kids in cheek by jowl…in the middle of COVID,” Parry told the Richmond News.

That situation wasn’t a one-off, said Parry, as RFC is booked at Minoru three times a week – on top of people walking around Minoru track or other kids showing up towards the end of the session, trying to warm up for their own time on the field.

Typically, clubs would tell the city, at the beginning of each season, the number of fields they need and where, so that coaches and equipment are in the same place. If any field space was leftover, it would be handed back, said Parry.

“City staff, this season, decided to put in place what they call a matrix, where they asked us for the number of teams that we have and the number of players that we have, and then decided how many hours that warranted,” said Parry.

“We’ve had about two teams worth of kids register just in the last two weeks that we didn’t expect – and that we’re really happy for – but where to we put them? The matrix just doesn’t factor any of that in. It just says that if your teams are registered with the BCCSL that we expect that they’re going to have this many hours.”

In April, Richmond city council approved the Outdoor Sports Facilities and Amenities policy, which was “developed in consultation with local clubs including Richmond FC and Richmond United,” said city spokesperson Clay Adams.

“It aims to balance the needs of clubs at all levels and in a way that encourages access for different ages and skills,” Adams said.

The policy uses a framework to allocate outdoor sports facilities and amenities that includes, for example, prioritizing Richmond residents and balancing sport opportunities.

In addition to team sessions, there’s also specialized camps and individual training, such as goalie training or with specialized coaches from out-of-town, said Parry, which also require field space – and that time wasn’t factored in through the new matrix.

“Richmond has spent so much money, and done such good work to build facilities that should be able to handle all of our kids and more, if they’re run the right way, and they’re just not being run the right way.”

Parry said RFC has had several Zoom meetings with the city about the issue over the past month, along with multiple emails, but so far there are no solutions.

And while RFC requires about 12 more hours per week than what the city gave them, they can probably work something out with even just three more hours, he said.

“The issue I think the city has, is they’ve got their assumption of what a team needs, and we have a different policy of what we actually promised our members. The goalkeepers need specific training – that’s just the way it is – if we’re doing passing drills…if we’re doing shooting drills, goalies aren’t getting much out of that,” he said.

Parry said that what could help is if the city provided a schedule of field use so organizations could know who is booked when and where, which could also help avoid confrontations between groups.

There was one instance, he said, of a double-booked field that led to a conflict between coaches from different clubs, and RFC ended up cancelling their session.

Having that schedule available could also help take pressure off the system, said Parry, as organizations could coordinate between themselves if they see another sport not making full use of the field they’ve booked.

Adams said the city recognizes that some clubs want more time and that it’s important the city’s fields are used to “maximum capacity and in a way that meet the needs of all users.”

“City fields are for everyone, which is why city staff will be conducting audits of all our turf fields this week to ensure they are being used in accordance with the policy,” he said.

“With regard to specific club concerns, we continue to have discussions with Richmond FC to resolve their outstanding issues related to the allocation of Richmond’s sports fields.”