Fish-farming feud sidelines girls' soccer squad on Vancouver Island
VANCOUVER — The beautiful game has stopped for a girl's soccer team on northern Vancouver Island over media attention arising from the sideline issue of salmon farming.
The latest development in the decades-old dispute between the industry and its British Columbia opponents is pitting a soccer mom and her daughter who plays for an under-15 squad against the club's fish-farming sponsors.
Willie Mitchell, a salmon-farming opponent and member of the NHL's Florida Panthers, has also weighed into the dispute, with a tweet of support for the teen.
Jason Elligott of BC Soccer, the sport's provincial governing body, said in an interview the team's play has come to a halt over parents' concerns about media coverage.
"What the club did is, specifically for this team that's impacted, is they stopped the soccer activity and it was primarily because ... media were showing up at the field of play, trying to interview players on the team, and the parents of those players didn't want their children to be exposed to that."
Elligott said the club held a meeting Tuesday night and will now determine its next steps.
The dispute focuses on Marine Harvest Canada's sponsorship of one team within the Upper Island Riptide soccer club.
The company's website said it employs more than 10,000 people internationally, raising one-fifth of the world's farm-raised salmon.
Anissa Reed said she and her 14-year-old daughter Freyja have long opposed salmon farming due to environmental concerns, like sea lice and disease.
Reed said she and Freyja moved to Comox in September 2014 so her daughter could play competitive soccer but learned about the sponsorship deal in August, months after the team's tryout.
"She would never sign up to play for Marine Harvest, but it's not just that easy to leave," said Reed of her daughter, noting the closest competitive club is in Nanaimo, 114 kilometres to the south.
She said she fears the company is trying to "buy social licence on the coast."
Reed said she set up a Facebook page, questioning the sponsorship deal, and discussed her concerns with the club's steering committee.
A Sept. 14 email summarizes those talks from the club's point of view.
Steering committee member Sean Arbour said Reed would have to remove social-media posts linking the company and club, and she and Freyja could not engage in "sideline chatter" about the company at games, training sessions and events.
Arbour said Freyja, in part, would not have to wear corporate logos or participate in fundraisers using company products. He called the email "strike 1" for the Reeds.
"In the event that the above conditions are not met, a hearing will be necessary to discuss further involvement in the Riptide program," he said.
Reed said she feared Freyja wouldn't be allowed to discuss with teammates her reasons for remaining out of team photos bearing the corporate logo.
The media got involved after she approached a friend at the University of British Columbia, she said, adding nobody from the club has contacted her since the last email.
Mitchell, an open net-pen salmon-farming critic, offered to sponsor the team in a Oct. 27 tweet.
The company said in a news release Tuesday that it does not seek sponsorship opportunities but supports community groups unconditionally and does not influence the recipients.
"Marine Harvest's donations to community groups have not, and will not, and will never, restrict a recipient's right to voice their opinions or their ability to speak freely," it said.
The club declined to comment but released a statement Wednesday, saying it will remain non-partisan, appreciates support from the business community and its actions were meant to protect a safe, fun and challenging environment.
"It's not a right, but rather a privilege, to be a part of the Riptide family," it added.
Keven Drews, The Canadian Press