PEI

P.E.I. pulls plug on national soccer championship because of 'dangerous' turf

The P.E.I. Soccer Association has withdrawn as host of the Under-16 National Soccer championships after being unable to guarantee that the artificial turf at UPEI will be replaced by October. The City of Charlottetown turned down a request for $300,000 towards the cost of replacing the turf.

'It's a substantial hit, it's over a million-dollar event'

P.E.I. Soccer Association president John Diamond looks at one of the spots on the UPEI artificial turf that has been patched it is so badly worn. (Nancy Russell/CBC)
The P.E.I. Soccer Association has withdrawn as host of the Under-16 National Soccer championships after being unable to guarantee to the Canadian Soccer Association that the artificial turf at UPEI will be replaced by October.

"It's very, very disappointing because we've been hosting on a regular basis since 2010," said John Diamond, president of the P.E.I. Soccer Association.

It's not really a turf facility anymore, it's wore out.— John Diamond, P.E.I. Soccer Association

Diamond made the call Thursday to the Canadian Soccer Association to officially inform them that the Island would not be hosting in 2016.

The soccer association was in discussions with UPEI since the U-18 national championship was held on the artificial turf in October 2015, despite concerns about its poor condition.

"We got the field approved but we were told that it was sub-standard, that it was showing too much wear and tear," explained Diamond.

The Canadian Soccer Association allowed these U-18 players to use the field in October 2015 but told the P.E.I. Soccer Association that the turf needed to be replaced for the next national championship. (CBC)

"At that point, we were telling both the city and the university that they needed to have a plan for replacement of the turf or we're not going to be able to host any more national championships."

The turf is more than 10 years old, Diamond said, and well beyond its best-before date.

There was a plan under discussion to re-surface the field in June, at a price tag of more than $750,000, but that came to a screeching halt this week, Diamond said. 

Request for funding denied

A fundraising group from UPEI had approached the City of Charlottetown for $100,000 a year for three years. But the city turned down the request.

"We don't understand how the city could allow something like this national championship just to fall through because it's a major economic hit to the city," said Diamond.

"The lack of support for soccer is troubling," he added. 

"And I'm somewhat upset by the fact, when I look at the city's budget, their support for hockey at facilities around the Charlottetown area is substantial."

'It's a substantial hit'

Meanwhile, the city is also dismayed. 

"Needless to say we were very disappointed," said Wayne Long, Charlottetown's e vents development officer.

The event was a "real coup" in the fall shoulder season, Long added, and usually attracted many participants and families. 

"It's a substantial hit, it's over a million-dollar event."

Wayne Long, the events development officer for Charlottetown, is urging UPEI to fix the turf field.

"But when we went forward with all groups to attract this event, no one had indicated to us the turf field at UPEI would not be operational in time for the event," added Long.

Long defended the city's decision to turn down the request for funding to repair the turf.

"One of the challenges that the council faced, given the current financial picture, is the justification of putting taxpayer dollars into a facility, a complex, that the city doesn't outright own," said Long.

"Council is unable, unfortunately, to support the request of the university at this particular time but they encouraged the university to move forward, the university has access to other infrastructure programs."

Taxpayers use facility too

The soccer association isn't buying the city's argument.

"The fact of the matter is the taxpayers of the city are the ones who are using the facility," argued Diamond, who points out that the senior men's soccer league is made up primarily of Charlottetown-based teams.

"It saves wear and tear on the grass fields around the city. It's a major bonus."

The city already provides a substantial amount of support for soccer, countered Long, pointing out the city pays $200,000 annually to maintain its 15-plus soccer facilities, a new soccer complex and two new clubhouses.

These high school rugby players are already using the turf but there are questions whether it is even safe to be on because it is so worn out. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Uncertain future

Diamond is not sure if the soccer association will be able to use the UPEI turf at all this summer.

"It's going to come down to what our insurer tells us," Diamond said.

"The reports we're getting are, we shouldn't be using it, it's dangerous at the present time."

"It's not really a turf facility anymore, it's wore out."

Nobody from UPEI was available as of publication time.

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