RED DEER – As officials from across Alberta prepare for the 2020-21 season, a special emphasis is being put on battling racism and inequality on the ice.
A number of topics were covered during the annual Officials Leadership Weekend (which was done virtually this year), with social injustice and inequality at the forefront.
Referee in Chief Craig Decoursey says equality on the ice begins with how officials treat each other.
“Part of your support will be ensuring you are inclusive, and supportive of your fellow officials, no matter their race or background,” he says. “Combating discrimination starts with us all working together to ensure a welcoming and safe refereeing environment.”
Sanjeev Bhagrath, a Sikh official from Edmonton, says he’s faced many challenges as an official who is a member of a visible minority.
“It is disappointing, unfortunate and disheartening the number of times I’ve had coaches, players and fans call me a Paki, Taliban member, or terrorist,” he says. “These comments have impacted me to the point where I’ve thought of quitting, and that I would never be accepted by the hockey world because of my colour.”
“However, my family and friends have always encouraged me to continue on and persevere,” Bhagrath says. “I will never understand why I have to be seen as a ‘brown official’ and not just ‘an official.’ We need change in hockey to make us all equal.”
In order to ensure a safe environment on the ice and respect amongst players, an increased emphasis is being put on officials to enforce discipline in situations of racism, discrimination, or inequality directed from one player, or a group of players, to another.
Charle Dumba, a Hockey Alberta official whose son, Matt, is currently working hard to lead change in the National Hockey League with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, offers his perspective as a parent and an official.
“As referees, we have a very important role to play, because we are at the grassroots level of where all of this starts,” he says. “As parents, we all want our kids to grow up a certain way, and be respectful, but we never really get to hear what they say on the ice, or hear what someone has said to them on the ice.”
“The Officials Leadership Weekend, organized by our Volunteer Leadership Coordinator, Chris Bruce, was a rousing success,” says Brett Kelly, Hockey Alberta’s Manager, Officiating. “Inequality and racism conversations are difficult to start, but that’s what we believe we’ve done – started the conversation around these vitally important causes.”
Kelly says the rule emphasis on inequality and discrimination, and the penalties associated with it, will be taught at all Hockey Alberta Officials clinics throughout the 2020-21 season.