British Columbia

Youth hockey player who was racially abused on ice calls for more education in sport

A 16-year-old B.C. hockey player is sharing his experience with racism on the ice, hoping others will learn from it and prevent such abuse from happening again.

Zaya Morro, 16, disappointed in B.C. Hockey investigation into racial slur directed at him during game

Zaya Morro, 16, says he is used to 'chirps' on the ice but this was the first time he'd been racially abused during his 10 years of playing hockey.  (Submitted by Kristy Morro)

A youth hockey player is sharing his experience with racism on the ice in the hope it will spark more discussion and education around race in the sport's community. 

Earlier this season, 16-year-old Zaya Morro from Courtenay, B.C., was called a racial slur on the ice after a hit. 

"It completely caught me off guard," he said. 

He said players in his league often "chirp" at one another — the practice of trash-talking an opponent to unnerve and distract them — but nothing this serious had come up during his 10 years of playing hockey. 

Zaya said he and his team's captain reported it to the referee, who kicked the other player out of the game and assured Zaya an investigation would be launched immediately. 

But Zaya and his mom, Kristy Morro, were left disappointed by B.C. Hockey's response.

The league said it began looking into the matter as soon as it was made aware of the situation, "shortly" after it happened — but added it was unable to comment on the case, or provide details about the outcome of the investigation, because it involves minors.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, B.C. Hockey said it took "disciplinary and educational" action that was "appropriate and fair."

But Morro said it took her contacting the league repeatedly to see any action, and she and Zaya didn't feel they were taken seriously. 

"It was more giving the benefit of the doubt to the player who said the word and not the victim who it was said to," Morro said.

Since the incident, Zaya said he's become a more reserved player and worries that if he gets physical at all he might encounter more hate — something he's not prepared to go through again. 

Morro said she's also heard comments about her son from parents in the stands. 

"We've heard things like Zaya is out there completely playing normal, not even aggressively, and we get, 'oh, the little Black one has a temper,'" she said.

Zaya says he hopes parents and coaches will talk to players about respect and discrimination in light of his experience. (Submitted by Kristy Morro)

'This shouldn't be a conversation people shy away from'

Zaya is now calling for better education when it comes to discrimination — both formally through leagues and schools, but also between parents and their children. 

"This shouldn't be a conversation people shy away from," Zaya said.

He would have liked to see the player who insulted him be put through an anti-racism course. 

"If you understand how other people feel about it, then you would understand why not to do it," he said.

Ultimately, Zaya said, he chose to make the story public to educate and ensure it doesn't happen to other players of colour.

"I don't want this to happen to anyone, and even if it does, I would want people to speak up rather than having to hide," he said. "I want people to be able to feel confident that if they speak up, something will happen."

B.C. Hockey CEO Cam Hope agrees that addressing racism in sports must remain the top priority for everyone involved. 

"It seems absurd that in 2022 our society still struggles with racism (and with all attitudes that create barriers to inclusion), let alone that these attitudes and actions still leak over into sport," Hope said in a statement.

"Yet we continue to see examples. So, fighting for a better, safer, more inclusive sport landscape is a challenge that we all need to accept."

"I have been around this game for a long time, and I see improvements, but we can't slow our efforts."

Hockey Canada recently implemented a national incident tracking system and updated the maltreatment section in its rulebook. 

It now states that any player who uses verbal taunts, insults or intimidation based on discriminatory grounds, such as uttering racial slurs, will be assessed a gross misconduct penalty — which, according to B.C. Hockey, could result in a suspension of at least five games.

A spokesperson for Hockey Canada said the organization is committed to creating a safe and inclusive environment for all players.

"Together with our members, we will continue to explore opportunities to address those issues at all levels of the game," it said in an email to CBC News.