Hockey Calgary says on-ice racism incidents on the rise but refs have to hear slurs to act on them

Hockey Calgary says its trying to contain a rise in on-ice incidents of racism but there's only so much referees can do and the rest is up to coaches.

Parent furious after son allegedly called 'curry master' and 'brown terrorist' only to be suspended himself

Hockey Calgary executive director Kevin Kobelka said minor hockey players can be suspended for up to 10 games for uttering racial slurs but referees actually have to hear the comments, as they can't rely on "hearsay." (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Hockey Calgary says it's trying to contain a rise in on-ice incidents of racism but there's only so much referees can do and the rest is up to coaches.

"We've had a little bit of an increase recently," said Hockey Calgary executive director Kevin Kobelka.

"We've had a couple issues in the arena regarding some discriminatory slurs and we're basically doing everything we can do to curb that."

Among the incidents was one case on Feb. 2, in which hockey dad Al Merali said his teenage son was called a "brown terrorist" by an opposing player.

"These racial comments must be stopped and penalized," Merali wrote in a letter to Hockey Calgary, adding that it's far from the first time his son has been subjected to such slurs.

"It has been approximately three years that my son has been subjected to unacceptable behaviour and more recently has been victimized by racial slurs such as 'carpet rider,' 'curry master,' 'terrorist,' 'paki,' 'brown terrorist,'" Merali wrote. 

"Our family has been in this country for three generations and I can't believe that public racism still goes on."

Son, father and coach suspended

Making matters worse, Merali said it was his son, not the offending player, who ended up suspended as a result of the incident.

Merali said he, as a hockey parent, was also suspended for two games and the team's coach for six games for their response to the incident.

"Our coach gets six games for standing up to racism?" he said. "I don't think that's right."

Following an investigation, Hockey Calgary passed along written "regrets" to the family for "what was reported to us as a missed call with respect to inappropriate language directed to your son."

Hockey Calgary also determined the suspensions were justified "for the behavior directed at the official in the aftermath."

Refs can't rely on 'hearsay'

Kobelka said players who utter racial slurs will be suspended for up to 10 games but referees need to observe it, first-hand.

"We don't tolerate it — unfortunately comments are very tough to catch by our officials," he said. "We cannot have our officials making decisions based on hearsay."

"If they don't hear the call, all they can do is try and educate the coach and try to talk to his team," he added.

"Then it has to be the responsibility of the coach to work with his players to make sure they're not doing those types of behaviours."

Merali said Hockey Calgary should also provide more education to referees, players and parents on how to address racism.

"We need to work together," he said.


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