November 3, 2023
The ORFA agrees with the purpose of Hockey Canada’s recent dressing room policy and the premise that (athletes, officials, coaches, team staff, etc.) have a right to access safe, inclusive, and equitable dressing spaces [more]. However, even after the recognition of physical limitations of some facilities by Hockey Canada, the practical application and assumption that the policy will automatically be implemented in arenas without challenge is something that requires further discussion between ORFA and Hockey Canada representatives and more importantly, between the building owner and the user group.
The ORFA reminds all parties that the control of building spaces, like washrooms or change rooms, requires support and prior dialogue with the facility owner or their designate and outcomes reached should consider the owner/user building rental contract and the confirmation that care, and control is clearly understood and can be realistically implemented. In simple terms, the need for prior communication between all minor hockey teams sanctioned by Hockey Canada and its members to the arena owner/representative should form part of the rental agreement.
The topic of dressing room access cannot be viewed in isolation without reference to other facility operation concerns. Recent dressing room issues, including “helmets and gloves” events and the combat between players until one was rendered unconscious in ice rink dressing rooms is identified by facility operations staff and something that should never be taking place if the Hockey Canada dressing room safety “Rule of Two” is being strictly practiced. Other operations related concerns such as, the role of on-ice officials stopping games until unruly spectators leave the seating area, have impact on who has the authority to eject a person from a public building? Under what legal right and following what process? The spectator might be required to leave the field of play area, but can they be ejected from the entire building and if so, by whom, for how long, and how would re-entry be handled should the person return? The operations concern continues as the matter of this same patron following the team to another building becomes the problem of another building owner, as the ban from one building to another community building will not be binding.
The Hockey Canada dressing room policy is not the first attempt in creating safe change room environments. Hockey Canada improved coaching training programs and required that two (2) trained and screened coaches be in a dressing room from the start to the end of each session. It would be helpful to learn if this “Rule of Two” is different and if so, how? ORFA members have regularly advised that this policy is not being adhered to and have asked how best to report and handle these situations. The ORFA response to date has been for facility operators to generate an incident report for facility supervisory staff who in turn, should approach the user group for follow-up with their members. The operational issue of allowing access to the changeroom without knowing who the trained and screened adults are, is becoming an ongoing problem. Should facility staff open the changeroom? Looking through a liability lens the answer is no, but dealing with both players and guardians who demand access often creates a violence in the workplace environment.
The ORFA continues to strive to educate all structured organizations or users that they have no authority in the design, construction, operation, or management of Ontario’s recreational infrastructure – they are invited guests. Recreation facilities are built to current and strict Building Codes with no legal obligation for an owner to remain current with changes to the Code. For example, facilities constructed in the 1970’s, met the Building Code of that era and unless there was a strict compliance update generated by provincial leaders or associated governing authorities, building retrofit is not a legal requirement to be met. Under the current Building Code there is no legal requirement to provide sport changerooms. Public washrooms are required with design based on calculated user loads as determined under the Fire Code. However, unless a building owner elects to include change/dressing rooms in the design then only then are there set requirements under the Building Code.
The current situation might best be described as a mix of historical past practice and at times a misunderstanding by some organized sport groups on their limitations associated with recreation facility use. Historically there was an unwritten chain of use priority within an arena. Minor hockey got what they needed, figure skating was next in securing ice time and adult use was last to access the facility. The 90’s was the first evolution in change as other sports demanded fair and equal access. This resulted in facility’s creating “ice allocation policies” that helped facility management navigate the demand for use by all organized ice sports in a fair and equal manner. The most difficult educational point was the fact that there was no guarantee that ice schedules would merely roll over into subsequent years.
Note: Public Health has significant authority that can direct or influence community public health decisions and as such, facilities may experience regional differences in inspection and follow up direction.
The ORFA continues to provide support and guidance to members on how best to handle organized sports who create internal policy that impacts facility operations with no consultation. Sport governing bodies at different times believe that they can create internal policy or change governance that automatically would force facilities to respond without delay. A past example is the different changes in sport line marking measurements or layout designs without any consideration with regards to how, for example, shifting a goal or blue line measurement might impact other sports such as ringette or broomball. Service provision changes by organized sport also creates another operational issues. For example, consider the decision to go to cross ice and the operational challenges that are experienced (refer to https://orfa.com/page-1864778). Further, the responsibility of anchoring sports nets creates not only a risk and insurance liability for the facility owner but increased service expectations (refer to https://orfa.com/page-1864555). The most recent Hockey Canada Rule Book update has resulted in a further operational concerns (refer to https://orfa.com/page-1865010).
As stated in the opening paragraph, the ORFA agrees with the intent of the Hockey Canada policy regarding changeroom needs to meet all genders. Full and fair access is a worthy topic of discussion with the caveat that aging infrastructure is the real primary alert; a reminder that aging recreation infrastructure is real – no facility, no play!
The ORFA resource on changeroom care and control further speaks to roles and responsibilities of these areas. However, these wants and needs must stand behind the requirements of Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that regrettably too many communities are slow to embrace and comply with. If these needs were met, many other user groups would benefit from the upgrades.
The ORFA Guidelines for Recreation Facility Planning, Design and Construction resource makes reference to new changeroom, checkroom and locker design on page 39, while the ORFA post pandemic resource on recreation facility washroom design has evaluated our members experiences during COVID and what needs to be continued as part of normal operations best practice.
In closing, not Hockey Canada or any other user group has the authority to demand an increased level of service within buildings whereby they are not the owner. It is extremely important to understand that the implementation of any organized sports policy needs advanced consultation and discussion long before an implementation notice. Clarifying the use of the recreation facility in the user agreement is a critical approach to roles, responsibilities, and limitations in authority.
Further, the ORFA believes that the real root of the issue is the quiet “aging recreation facility crisis” that requires the leadership and investment by all stakeholders. As new facilities are constructed or older building retrofitted, architects must understand the social changes in public recreational facility needs and use and different policies of sport governing bodies and user groups.
The recreation facility industry should remain confident that the ORFA remains open and ready to assist any organized user group better understand facility/user relationships. Open communication remains the pathway to improved facility services.
Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Director, Training, Research and Development, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association
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