An 'issue of public health'

RANDY RICHMOND, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:53 AM ET

It will take parents and Parliament to stop fighting in hockey, participants in a seminar on violence in the sport say.

Once the rules change, the players will have little problem following suit, predicted a former hockey star.

"It is hard to get out. But players will respond to whatever you throw at them," said David Simpson, a former London Knight, winner of the OHL scoring title and Team Canada captain. "I think it is a bit of a fake argument to say the players won't adjust. What it really means is some guys won't have jobs."

Simpson is joining a 15-member symposium on violence in hockey Feb. 24 at the London Convention Centre.

Parents, players, fans, trainers, coaches and others interested in debating the issue can attend by registering through the Middlesex London Health Unit and through forms to be distributed through area arenas and libraries.

At a news conference yesterday announcing the symposium, participants said they know it's going to take a lot to change the hockey culture.

Kevin Wamsley, associate dean of health sciences at the University of Western Ontario, said "some of us think it is time for our Parliament to become involved. If we need to pass a law, then that is the way to go."

The medical impact of hockey violence will be documented at the symposium, Wamsley said.

"This is an issue of public health," he said. "This is not a healthy environment for kids and not a healthy labour environment for employees of the National Hockey League."

No other workplace would allow fights to solve disputes or release tension, he said.

Organizer Carol Carnegie called on parents to back a ban on fighting in hockey.

"I think we have to take a grassroots approach to getting rid of it. It is not part of the game and shouldn't be," said Carnegie, a London mom who shepherded four children through minor sports.

"Kids, when they get involved in sports, they don't get involved thinking they are going to be a fighter. As parents, when we register them in sports, we expect it to be a safe environment."

Participants are to include Margaret Best, Ontario's minister of health promotion, doctors, sports writers, sports officials and referees.

The symposium has been months in the planning, but comes at time when death and serious injuries from hockey violence have hit headlines.

A recent Leger Marketing poll for Sun Media found most Canadians want fighting banned in minor hockey and more severely punished at the professional level.

"There's an ever-growing voice in this country calling on our sport organizations to take a closer look at fighting and excessive violence in hockey and decide whether they have a place in our game," Middlesex London medical officer of health Dr. Graham Pollett said.

Simpson discounted the argument the NHL would lose American fans if fighting was banned.

"Major corporations and networks only take you seriously as a professional sport if you don't have fighting. It is a silly part of the game."

A few years ago, when the NHL cracked down on hooking and other obstruction penalties, players had one rough year to adjust, he said.

"But one year of frustration is all it took and now they play the game knowing you can't hook and hold and do the things that were norms in my day."


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